Barbrara Brussell: Come What Mae—A Mother of a Show

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Barbrara Brussell

Come What Mae—A Mother of a Show

Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, October 14, 2018

Reviewed by Peter Haas for Cabaret Scenes

Barbara Brussell
Photo: Stephen Sorokoff

Mae Brussell was a powerhouse. She was a writer, lecturer, teacher, and, for 17 years, an investigative radio commentator who believed that the assassination of John F.
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Kennedy was a conspiracy. Mae was also the mother of cabaret star Barbara Brussell, who was in New York from her California home to sing at the Cabaret Convention and, in her own strong, moving one-night cabaret show, to salute Mae at a packed-house Don’t Tell Mama.

“I’ve talked about doing this for years,” Barbara commented at the start of her show, 30 years after her mother’s death. “Now I can say, ‘What was I thinking?’” The evening showcased a more serious Barbara, yet with her ebullience and still creamy voice making warm contact with her audience.
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With Christopher Denny at the piano, Barbara offered a varied program with songs by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice (“Prologue” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), Stephen Sondheim (“Children and Art,” from Sunday in the Park with George); Rodgers and Hammerstein (“I Whistle a Happy Tune” and “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught”), and a medley of politically-oriented songs, including “The Ballad of Booth” (Sondheim), “Save the Country’ (Laura Nyro), “Being at War with Each Other” (Carole King), and the spiritual, “Down By the Riverside.”

Changing pace, she saluted a number of songwriters of the 1960s, with a medley that included Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”; Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; “Scarborough Fair”; and Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Barbara displayed her acting chops with moving renditions of Sondheim’s “Someone In a Tree,” from Pacific Overtures, and Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s “How Could I Ever Know?,” from The Secret Garden. Barbara’s closer:  “You Were There,” by Ken Hirsch and Ron Miller, from Clothespins and Dreams. As the room emptied out, long lines formed in the corridor as fans waited to hug Barbara—and to wish her a speedy return to the city.

Peter Haas

Writer, editor, lyricist and banjo plunker, Peter Haas has been contributing features and performance reviews for Cabaret Scenes since the magazine’s infancy. As a young folk-singer, he co-starred on Channel 13’s first children’s series, Once Upon a Day; wrote scripts, lyrics and performed on Pickwick Records’ children’s albums, and co-starred on the folk album, All Day Singing. In a corporate career, Peter managed editorial functions for CBS Records and McGraw-Hill, and today writes for a stable of business magazines. An ASCAP Award-winning lyricist, his work has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Feinstein’s, Metropolitan Room and other fine saloons.