Romantic Cabaret

Amanda McBroom's life was changed by a traveling production of a musical revue.

The first national tour of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris came to San Francisco when McBroom was, in her words, a "straight, legit actor." Brel's music would soon change the trajectory of McBroom's career, influence her personal life and define the music she later wrote.

Jacques Brel was one of the most famous singers and songwriters in France in the 1960s. His music is romantic and recalls a uniquely Parisian ambiance. McBroom saw the performance seven times, each time becoming more captivated by the atmosphere of the show.

When one of the female roles in the show later opened up, McBroom auditioned and got the gig. Suddenly, instead of acting at, say, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, McBroom was acting out and singing Brel's hits for audiences across the globe.

"It made me realize that I love musical theater," McBroom said. "You're telling some really cool stories, and I love telling stories."

McBroom was the product of a theatrical family; her father worked with movies, and her mother was a drama teacher. She decided at the age of 4 that acting was her niche, but it wasn't until she became familiar with Brel's work that she knew she was destined for a musical career.

She told the story of Brel's career and music to audiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Europe. When she returned to New York City, McBroom fell in love with the show's leading man—and the two have been married ever since.

"Jacques Brel was pretty much (like) the second cousin that we lived with," McBroom joked.

McBroom has also had a successful career as a recording artist. Her first album, Growing Up in Hollywood Town (with pianist Lincoln Mayorga), was recorded and produced in 1980 without any polishing. Brel was ever-present in the process of writing and recording the album, influencing McBroom's love and use of the romantic in her songs, she said.

"I think one of the main jobs of music is to let us know we're not alone, and that everybody feels the same way we do about life and about love," she said. "Music helps us realize that we speak the same language, if we are willing to listen."

McBroom's cabaret performance, April in Paris, will feature her interpretations of Brel's work. Songs from Cole Porter and George Gershwin will also be featured as McBroom is joined by her musical director, Michele Brourman.

The words "cabaret performance" may conjure up images of dark, jazzy Chicago musical flashbacks. But there is much more to her show, according to McBroom.

"Cabaret is very intimate," she said. "I try to make people feel as though they are in a living room, and we are conversing. ... It's really personal. I can see into people's eyes, and it truly becomes an emotional conversation."

Sunday's April in Paris performance will not only celebrate cabaret as a performing style, but will also celebrate the personal connections associated with music in general.

"The show is about showing people what is really going on in your heart," McBroom said. "Raw emotional honesty—that's what really connects with people."

The performance is a fundraiser for the Invisible Theatre, a community theater in Tucson now in its 39th year.

"Invisible Theatre got its name from the invisible energy that flows between audience and performers," said Susan Claassen, the managing artistic director of Invisible Theatre. "Anytime there is an audience and performer, that magic is created, and Amanda McBroom is a magician."

Magician or not, McBroom hopes to create a mood of romance in the lives of audience members—the same kind of influence that Brel's music had on her own life.

"I hope audiences come away really happy, like they just ate the best musical dinner of their lives," McBroom said. "If they (leave) holding hands a little tighter than when they went in, that would make me really happy."

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