Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

It's a Grand Night for Singing with
Amanda McBroom and Sony Holland

Also see Richard's reviews of Edward Scissorhands and Flora, the Red Menace

The Bay Area Cabaret, celebrating its third season of bringing top flight cabaret artists to San Francisco, recently presented "the Queen of Cabaret" Amanda McBroom and rising cabaret artist Sony Holland at the Commandants Ballroom of the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco. It was a night to remember as two great artists mesmerized the fully packed room.

Local jazz artist Sony Holland opened the two-hour show with great backup by Benny Watson on piano, Seward McCline on bass, and David Rokeach on drums. Ms. Holland has been described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a "decidedly modern jazz diva," and I agree with that assessment. She is an "Ann-Margret with brains" and her voice is a cross between Peggy Lee and the pop styling of Nancy Wilson.

Pert and petite, dressed in a stunning black cocktail dress, Sony Holland went immediately into the swinging "Come Fly With Me," with an outstanding jazz solo on piano by Benny Watson. The effervescent singer did a smooth rendition of Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington's "The Nearness of You." Changing keys, she segued into "I'm No Angel Myself," from her third CD, with a great Latin beat from the trio.

Sony had a hint of sultriness when singing the Cole Porter classic "I've Got You Under My Skin," with each word coming softly and clearly through that throaty voice. She finished her session with the Etta James' classic "At Last," ending with a crescendo of commanding sounds. Sony Holland will be appearing at Yoshi's on Jack London Square, 510 Embarcadero, West Oakland on January 29th.

After a brief intermission, Amanda McBroom took the stage, dressed in a sexy diamond sequinned cocktail dress, looking radiate. She sang a mix of originals and standards, concentrating largely on her own compositions. This legendary singer has the touch of a great actress when singing her own songs. She is an accomplished composer and one of the few writers who is also a consummate performer. Most of her collaborations are with her pianist Michelle Brourman, who knows how to tickle those ivories. They are working together on a Broadway musical based on a 1998 British film called Dangerous Beauty.

Ms. McBroom opened her segment with her own composition called "Old Love," which is about a bittersweet reunion with a past lover. The song ends with an "old man" on bended knee asking "Would you marry me?" and she replies "Yes." The old man asks if he can ask one more question to which she replies in the affirmative, and he says, "Would you help me up?". She turned sensual singing her own "Hot in Here" that got the hearts of those men sitting in the front thumping. She told the audience that she wrote the next song here in San Francisco; she sang a complicated rendition of "Wheels" with her dynamic voice. The lyrics of this song run to four to five syllables and she gave it a powerful ending. She took a sarcastically funny look at plastic surgery in the song "The Life," with clever lyrics. The melody by Ms. Brourman has a great waltz beat.

Ms. McBroom sang with great emotion the poignant song "My Foolish Heart," by Victor Young and Ned Washington, and then went into the heartrending "A Beautiful Mistake." She sang two classy songs from her Shakespeare heroine series. The first, a paean to Titania Queen of the Night, is called "Everyone Gonna Love an Ass Sometimes," and her favorite love song of the series, "Suddenly Love," is a tribute to Olivia. The highlight of the whole segment was a song dedicated to her father, David Bruce, who was a "B" actor in Hollywood (I knew him when working in films). This song, "Errol Flynn," is a flat out masterpiece. It covers the relationship she had with her dad growing up and brilliantly evokes a wonderful era of Hollywood.

Ms. McBroom presented sharp and sophisticated patter between songs. She credits Jacques Brel as her greatest influence in music and lyrics and talked about her mother taking her to see Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in 1969. During that time, a replacement was needed and she tried out by singing a French song in a somewhat Texan accent. However, she got the role, marking her first appearance on stage. McBroom is now working on a new album with Brel songs that have never been heard in this country (a second Jacques Brel revue in South Africa never reached out shores). She sang one of the songs, called "Early Morning Hangers On," which is in an entirely different style for the Belgian genius. She ended the session with the Brel classic, the complicated "Carousel," a stunner that she built to an emotional peak.

Amanda McBroom has a rare greatness that captivates an audience. This gifted writer and performer sings wonderful short stories that remind me of songs by Stephen Sondheim. She is truly a queen of cabaret.

The cabaret concert took place at the Marines Memorial Hotel Ballroom on Sutter Street in San Francisco on November 12th. Karen Mason will appear in the Crystal Ballroom with a Valentine's Concert on Sunday, February 4th, and Maureen McGovern will offer an evening of Gershwin and other favorites in the Commandants Ballroom on May 6th.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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