Brooke Michael Smith
The Girl I Mean to Be
The Emerald Room at The Monocle, St. Louis, MO, November 18, 2016
Reviewed by Ken Haller for Cabaret Scenes
Brooke Michael Smith had a wardrobe malfunction on the opening night of her cabaret show. She didn’t have a wardrobe. In her excitement, she had forgotten to bring the dress she had planned to wear. No matter. As the dress was fetched from home, it gave the audience 15 minutes to get acquainted with each other and, ultimately, this delay, which might have derailed a lesser performer, was the only hiccup in a delightful, funny, moving evening of cabaret.
As a reviewer and practitioner of cabaret, I still find myself explaining exactly what cabaret is. It is this: telling stories through song. As such, it is not so much about brilliant vocal production, as you might expect from a recital. Rather, it is imperative that singers find songs they connect to in order to tell those stories. Smith’s audience was happy to find that she had accomplished both emotional connection and splendid singing. This is no surprise in that her director was the Tony Award winner Faith Prince, who is a brilliant teacher of the art of cabaret and demands such connection of all her students.
Onstage, Smith, apropos of her show’s title, projected an attractive, smart, slightly gawky girl-next-door aura with an open yet rueful smile that reminded me of Sarah Paulson. And while she hit all the beats of a typical autobiographical cabaret show—born here, went to school there, moved here, met and married there—the stories and songs led to surprises that were by turns hilarious and touching.
She was ably assisted onstage by her Musical Director Eryn Allen on the piano. Her arrangements were spare or lush, depending upon the demands of the song and its emotional content, and she was perfectly in sync both musically and tonally with Smith throughout the show.
Most impressive to me from a performance standpoint was that fact that Smith not only played the guitar on a few songs, but wrote some of them. It is always a risk to use material unfamiliar to an audience, yet in these moments, her smart writing, crisp diction, and emotional commitment made her original songs easily accessible and clear highlights of the show.
Because the material in a cabaret show can be highly personal, the performer has to walk a narrow line between being too open and too reserved. Smith walked that line effortlessly and I always felt that she was giving me the gift of creating a space for audience members to have their own emotional experiences. This was especially true for me near the end of the show when Smith, talking about the profound experience of being a mom, allowed me to reflect on my own life as a pediatrician. This emotional resonance is what cabaret is all about, and I am grateful to have been present.