When two distinctive and talented divas share a stage, they can either complement each other or compete. Amanda McBroom and Ann Hampton Callaway are a mutual admiration society, and the two shared a generous enthusiasm for each other’s talents at a sold-out John Anson Ford Theater.
They quickly and comically established their identities with their composition “The Diva Song,” a wickedly witty satire of divas today. The rest of the first act put the spotlight on Callaway (a Tony nominee for Broadway’s still-running “Swing”), justifying her statement, “I’m taller than most people, but I’m worth the climb.”
Her voice is flexible and surprisingly gutsy, and she socked out a vibrant version of the Arlen/Mercer standard “Come Rain or Come Shine.” But her wild card is a rip-roaring piano technique. She doesn’t play the keyboard, she owns it, and her pianistic authority increases the pleasure we feel in her performing.
The next string on her bow is impersonations — eerily accurate imitations of Ella, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. Callaway’s pop side is sensitively showcased in the song she wrote for Barbra Streisand’s wedding, “I’ve Dreamed of You.”
McBroom took over in act two and reminded the audience why many consider her the finest cabaret performer of her generation. She asks, “What’s a great song? It’s a strong double espresso, a slice of life, ground under a lot of pressure, with a little steam.” She lived up to those words, most particularly with “Old Love,” a bittersweet study of a reunion with a past lover that makes listeners simultaneously laugh and cry.
“Errol Flynn,” a staple at McBroom concerts, is a flat-out masterpiece. McBroom’s father, David Bruce, was an actor who played supporting roles in Errol Flynn films; this song not only covers their relationship, it beautifully evokes a bygone era.
McBroom does herself a disservice when she jokes, “If it was up to me, we’d have stopped with the Eagles.” Her music and lyrics are modern and universal, from “The Lift,” a scathingly funny look at plastic surgery (“A good nose is somewhere between Michael Jackson and Linda Tripp”), to her delicate signature song, “The Rose.” McBroom is an example of soul and craft. Her triumph is illustrating how cleverness can be used in the service of honesty.
Michele Brourman furnishes smooth piano accompaniment and deserves credit for collaborating with McBroom on five of the evening’s songs, including such memorable numbers as “Breathing,” “Wheels” and “Best Friend.”