Brooke Michael Smith – The Girl I Mean To Be
Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, June 22, 2017
I stumbled into Feinstein’s for Brooke Michael Smith’s debut show by happenstance, the guest of a fellow reviewer, and left pleasantly surprised and encouraged by new talent emerging in San Francisco’s cabaret scene. The Girl I Mean to Be is a stellar debut; well crafted, good backstories to introduce the nicely chosen material and beautifully presented. Brooke reminded me of seeing Spencer Day and Paula West in their ‘green’ days, and like those two well-seasoned acts, Smith has the natural ability and talent to quickly mature and blossom.
Blessed with a strong voice and clever songwriting skills, it’s easy to see why she won Best New Cabaret Artist in 2016. Her show, directed by Tony Award-winner Faith Prince, is an eclectic collection of classical musical theatre tunes, pop and her autobiographical original indie-folk songs. Backed by pianist Lynden Bair, Smith opened with a fine medley of Kander and Ebb’s “Colored Lights” from The Rink and “The Girl I Mean To Be” (Marsha Norman/Lucy Simon) from Secret Garden. It’s a strong statement that Smith can easily star in musical theater; her voice is strong, clear and confident.
Autobiographical shows can be tricky, often appearing false; personal anecdotes seemed created to just to segue into a song choice. Not here – Smith’s story flowed effortlessly and always seemed genuine and heartfelt. There’s more to her than just a lovely voice, especially when she really connects with a lyric like the poignant “How To Return Home” (Kait Kerrigan / Brian Lowdermilk) from Tales From the Bad Years and a stunning set highlight of Sara Bareilles’ “Let The Rain” / “She Used to Be Mine”. The latter, written for the musical The Waitress, is one of the finest musical theater songs written this century and Smith knocks it out of the park. I could feel the ‘future star’ hair on the back of my neck rise.
Smith’s original material is of equal quality; “Crooked” is a strong statement on self-acceptance and her encore of “You Are Not Alone” is a bouncy life-affirming love letter to her passion for performance and call for action. The Girl I Mean To Be sets a high bar for promising, upcoming cabaret performers and firmly establishes Smith as a long–term talent for years to come.