Barbara Brussell


November 25, 2003

A Scrapbook of Songs That Adhere to a Life

At a time when most cabaret shows are organized around strict thematic concepts, it takes a certain courage to buck the trend and use one's own messy life as a subject. But Barbara Brussell, who grew up in Carmel, Calif., and now lives in New York, carries it off with aplomb.

Her show, "The Piano Bench of My Mind," which plays at Danny's Skylight Room on Friday and thereafter on Saturdays in an open-ended run, is a seriocomic potpourri of personal favorites, subtitled "Songs I've Been Sitting On for Far Too Long." The wildly eclectic program ranges from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Joni Mitchell.

Projecting an off-kilter blend of zaniness and pathos that suggests the unpredictable mood swings of a Renée Zellweger character, Ms. Brussell, accompanied on piano (Mark Nadler substituted for her regular musicians last Friday), is a quick-change artist who injects an element of surprise into everything she sings. Her medium-strength voice, with its astringent edges, rides on a rapidly pulsating vibrato.

"I Cain't Say No" Ado Annie's signature song from "Oklahoma!" is slowed down to become the unblushing confession of a boy-crazy woman who swoons over every syllable of cheap sweet talk poured into her credulous ear. Ms. Mitchell's early ballad "I Don't Know Where I Stand" becomes the ditzy effusion of a romantically besotted teenager.

Many of the songs are prefaced with anecdotes and offbeat references. Marc Blitzstein's "I Wish It So," is offered as a commentary on Helen Keller's yearning to communicate. "And This Is My Beloved" from "Kismet" is introduced by a poignant passage from Liv Ullman's 1976 memoir, "Changing." By understating the flowery lyric and inflecting it with a tinge of humor, Ms. Brussell turns this piece of romantic kitsch into something genuinely real and touching.


REVIEW by Rex Reed:


November 19, 2003
by Rex Reed

Barbara Brussell
is a new singer with wit, style, warmth, drive and impeccable musical taste. She also has incredible chops. You can catch her every Friday night in November at Danny's Skylight Room on West 46th Street. She will captivate you. Without losing any of its humor, she finds a brand-new way to act the subtext of Ado Annie's "I Cain't Say No," and she can twist your heart into the shape of saltwater taffy on the exquisite ballad "Strangers Once Again". She treats music like architecture-slowly, meticulously building songs by Harold Arlen, John Bucchino, Tommy Wolf, Craig Carnelia, Cole Porter and others, brick by brick, until the mortar is in place and a total mood is created. Her voice is a happy voice, with a husky edge that can be sexy and slap-happy at the same time. Every number bears her unique stamp, and that includes the surprising aria "This Is My Beloved" from Kismet, performed in an introspective style refreshingly devoid of the usual histrionics. Whether she's examining Joni Mitchell or Oscar Hammerstein, she holds notes on descriptive words the way a great actor breaks up the thought patterns in a monologue. The voice is sunny, the arrangements are definitively B.B. (Before Barbra), and any singer who moves from Marc Blitzstein to Joni Mitchell in a matter of pulse beats has got to be called sophisticated. In a cabaret world that is glumly turning nightmarish, Barbara Brussell is a dream come true.