Amanda McBroom has been called “…the greatest cabaret performer of her generation, an urban poet who writes like an angel and has a voice to match” by the NY Times. Broadway World describes the Grammy nominated performer as “…one of the greatest nightclub performers of all time. Her lyrics are profound and express human emotions in glorious poetry. Her humor is so smart, and she sings and acts it all brilliantly. “A singer-songwriter and recording artist, Golden Globe winner McBroom makes her inaugural appearance at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael Friday. April 28. Best known for writing “The Rose,” which Bette Midler sang in the film of the same name, McBroom is also known for her collaboration as a lyricist with songwriter Michele Brourman. McBroom starred in the New York, San Francisco, and European productions of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris,” and she made her Broadway debut in Cy Coleman Dorothy Field’s musical “Seesaw” in 1973.
Recently I interviewed McBroom from her California home of a Zoom call. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Where do you live?
We have a little house in a town called Ojai which is about eighty miles from L.A., and right below Santa Barbara.
Have you ever played Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael?
Not in Carmel. New York, I have done, San Francisco and L.A. I have done.
What is our perspective regarding the state of cabaret in this country?
It is very interesting. We always call it the invalid but considering what COVID did to every club, theatre and live venue, it is still alive. There are fewer venues, a lot closed so the opportunities for smaller clubs are much for difficult but for people of a certain strata like Ann Hampton Callaway and Marilyn Maye and Michael (Feinstein) and to a lesser extent, me, there are still places to play, for which I am grateful. And there are still young people who are coming to hear it. An audience that is my age within a decade of either side, love cabaret but it is incredibly gratifying that younger people are embracing it. I have been teaching a lot of master classes, especially for cabaret performance and it amazing how many young people want to sing from the American Songbook. As far as clubs themselves, I have seen more close than open but there are a couple more openings in New York and Los Angeles. Cabaret is ailing but not dead by a long shot.
Covering the performing arts, I am aware that theatre schools are increasingly training students to be proficient at performing not only in theatre but also cabaret, concerts, film and television and making themselves more marketable.
It is important that they do not pigeonhole themselves. They must do so many things. And it is good to know theatre schools are training the next generation because after all, cabaret is theatre.
You have made films and appeared on television and of course cabaret is your specialty, but have you also done concerts?
I have done a few concerts with symphonies. I usually travel with three to five pieces. It is like jazz to me but when I am asked to do a symphony, you betcha…I got the charts. (laughs)
What did you pass the time during the pandemic lockdown?
It was interesting for me. I am fortunate that I have a beautiful garden and my husband (George Ball) and I had an RV, so when everything shut down we could always hop in it and got to all these abandoned campgrounds So we travelled a lot and were not housebound and for while I was thinking “Is it time for me to hang up my high heels?” and I thought about retiring but the universe said “You want to know?” and replied, “No. You are not ready to retire.” Fortunately for me, I happen to be in that small pocket in the music business that the older you get, the more they like you. Look at Marilyn Maye for example. (laughs),
I saw her Friday night at Feinstein’s.
Isn’t she the best? I would like to be like her when I grow up. That woman is astounding. I just love her. She is living evidence that you can do it. Julie Wilson was my mentor and so was Portia Nelson. They were my angels. And Margaret Whiting. I had all these fabulous women with fabulous histories who kept saying “keep writing and keep singing.” I was so fortunate to have them all.
How many songs are in your repertoire?
I have written over eight hundred and in my performance repertoire I have almost eight shows and I have a couple thousand songs.
Do you still receive royalty checks for writing “The Rose?”
Honey, that is the gift that keeps on giving, (laughs) I am so grateful.
How does that work? Where do the funds derive?
Radio airplay, use in a TV show somewhere in Japan and a lot of the money comes from Europe and Asia.
Are there any other songs you wrote that have the staying power of “The Rose?”
Nothing that huge. But there are certain songs that Barbra Cook and Judy Collins recorded, and that Betty Buckley recorded that I receive funds from. Michele (Brourman) and I have written the music for nineteen animated features for children for DreamWorks. All the “The Land Before Time” films with the Baby Dinosaurs, and the last three “Curious George” movies, The Chipmunks movies too. So, royalty fees come in from the animated films as well. I love writing animated films for kids. It is so much fun.
Do you sing in many animated films like Liz Callaway does?
Nobody beats Liz Callaway. I was just on the phone with her this morning. She is recording a new CD and we talked about who would be a good producer. Those two girls, Liz and her sister Ann, are miracles on the planet. Ann and Liz are a cello and a violin. They are the same voice with two different optics.
Liz and Ann, have both played Indy previously? Have you ever played here, aside from when you appeared years ago at The Cabaret at The Columbia Club?
I have not, so this is my chance to rediscover Indiana.
What can audiences expect from your show, especially those who do not know your work?
Well, they certainly know “The Rose.” There will be standards. My husband, says that whenever I am doing an evening, “For God’s sake, sing something they know.” There are some standards, some Jaques Brel songs and a lot of me…a lot of stuff that is very funny that Michele and I have written and some of my new songs and old favorites. Like the rides at Disneyland, I go up and down, and up and down in my act (laughs).
What is it about the cabaret art form that appeals to you the most?
It is so personal. Michelle says, “It’s personal theatre.” It is an intimate experience. In a room full of people, it is like I have a new family. It becomes a wonderful game. I bounce a ball to the audience and if they are willing, they bounce it back to me.
Do you interact with the audience?
Yes, it is a team sport.
Who are your music influences?
In my writing it is Jacque Brel and Harry Chapin. I love story songs. I consider every song a monologue and every song a three-act play. Joni Mitchell as a writer and Judy Collins as a writer and of course Dorothy Fields who was a perfect writer. As far as singing inspirations it is everybody from Julie Andrews to Bette Midler to Janis Joplin. I am a child, like you, of the sixties and our appetite was fed by so many assorted colors.
Have you met many of your idols?
Joyous and intimidating. Melissa Manchester is a dear friend. Judy Collins is also my friend. It was a thrill to meet her. Barbara Cook and I were very close. I have had a chance to meet many of them.
Do you still get starstruck?
Oh God yes. Totally. Totally. (laughs) Bonnie Raitt. I was stuttering while talking to her.
I heard her recently doing an interview in which she talked about being backstage with her dad john during his Broadway shows. Do you have kids?
No, unfortunately. All my children have four feet. Now we have two little rescue dogs. One is an old, blind Maltese cocker spaniel the other is a young Maltese poodle maniac and we have three indoor cats and one outdoor cat. The cats stay in the house because we have a lot of coyotes and the occasional mountain lion.
By the way, I recall when I saw you years ago that you had an easy-going rapport with the audience. Do you work from a script when you banter or how spontaneous is it?
It is spontaneous. I do like to talk. (laughs). I usually have a couple of lynch pins of lead ins for certain songs, but I am always reading the paper and meeting somebody walking down the street, and so what I see or hear on a given day may be incorporated in my show that night.
Let me wrap this up by asking you what you want to say to folks regarding why they should come to see your show,
I will be more than they expect. More fun than they will expect, and it may touch their hearts in ways they did not expect.
For tickets to Amanda McBroom’s show at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael, visit feinsteinhc.com.