Cabaret at its best allows the singing actor to create an evening which flows effortlessly and inevitably from their own stage personality. It’s no surprise that some of the most interesting cabaret performers are those who, for one reason or another, do not fit handily into any existing musical theater mold.
Brooke Davis, in her show “I’m So Sorry … For Everything”, which played March 25th at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, takes the traditional “story of my life” theme and gives it a hearty twist. From the opening moments - a mini radio play in which we listen in to the delivery room, as stunned doctors (“are those the shoulders?”) bring a trilling baby Brooke into the world – it’s clear that Davis is making the cabaret form her own. The title refers to Davis’s habit of apologizing for taking up too much space in the world – having grown to six feet by age ten. With musical director Darren Cohen and director Barbara Grecki, Davis has crafted a hilarious evening which intertwines song with comic set pieces in which she creates an entire supporting cast of characters.
From a well meaning wide-eyed drama teacher (“ooooh my! You’re a big girl,”) who introduces Brooke to the wonders of theater, to a Dolores Umbridge-style professor who brings every conversation back to her own career, to a woman who drags Davis’s husband aside at a bar mitzvah to comment on the six-foot shiksa – the characters pop effortlessly out of the well-honed dialogue. First time cabaret performers sometimes veer too far to one extreme or another with their spoken material – either coming across as too tightly scripted, or else fumblingly winging it. Davis strikes exactly the right balance – the narrative has clear structure, but with the sense in the off-hand delivery that Davis is sharing it with you over a martini (or three.)
Most impressive is how smoothly Davis transitions into and out of the songs. Musical director Darren Cohen has created gorgeous, sophisticated arrangements – including a striking transformation of “In My Own Little Corner”, the cheery Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, into a darker, meditative jazz piece unwinding from an insistent bass ostinato. (Mr. Cohen, at the piano, is joined by Matt Sharfglass on upright bass, and Jeff Roberts on drums.) The song selections range from more Rodgers & Hammerstein (“Shall We Dance”), to Maltby & Shire (“A Girl You Should Know), to Sondheim (the sharply driving “See What It Gets You” from Anyone Can Whistle, and a hilarious re-contextualization of “Beautiful Girls” from Follies.) Davis also takes a turn through R&B (“Shop Around”) and even Pink’s “Glitter in the Air”, wrapping her crystal-clear mezzo around each style equally well.
One of the highlights of the evening is the Beatrice Lillie classic, “There Are Fairies at the Bottom of our Garden.” Brooke Davis in many ways is a modern version of the madcap Ms. Lillie (who made her name in comic revues and in the works of Noël Coward), mixing a sense of elegant arched-eyebrow absurdity with a strain of Will Rogers plain-speaking (owing to Ms. Davis’s Arizona upbringing.) Ms. Davis is like an alchemist’s combination of the dry humor and depth of Allison Janney; the bubbly warmth of Judy Kaye; the vaudevillian silliness of Jo Anne Worley; and the elegance and vulnerability of Barbara Harris. Her voice is a pure, youthful mezzo mix, which rises with ease to clear high notes, and becomes warm and clarinet-like in the low register. At times, she evokes the crystalline, heartbreaking sound of the great Victoria Clark (with whom Ms. Davis has studied, and who was in attendance on Monday night). But Ms. Davis always puts her own particular spin on the music, singing with true authenticity.
Director Barbara Grecki deftly shapes the evening with lighting that underscores the changing moods, while never intruding. The Metropolitan Room, as always, provides smart, attentive service in a comfortable venue.
Brooke Davis has appeared most places you’d expect to find up and coming New York actors: turns on Law & Order, One Life to Live (before its untimely demise), and appearances in regional and touring productions. One can hope that wise casting directors can find a way to bring Ms. Davis’s unique combination of wicked wit, sweet vulnerability and boisterous humor to New York audiences soon.
Brooke Davis in “I’m So Sorry … For Everything”, March 25th, 2013. Musical direction by Darren Cohen. Directed by Barbara Grecki. Mr. Cohen on piano, Matt Scharfglass on bass, Jeff Roberts on drums. Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, New York City.
--Rob Hartmann is a writer/composer/lyricist based in New York City.