Some cabaret singers whisper you slowly into their intimate musical microcosms; Barbara Brussell might whisper at the start of her show, but she goes from zero to 60 in nothing flat, pinning her listeners to their seats with a stage presence only slightly scaled down from a Broadway opening. She has a big voice and a brassy, classy delivery, and her interpretations leave few dramatic stones unturned. Her settings enhance old gems, especially her favorites: the songs Oscar Hammerstein wrote with Richard Rodgers, which have a moon-faced spirituality, and the modern lieder of Stephen Sondheim. (Only rarely does Brussell overthink the material, as when she buries the lilting sophistication of Cole Porter in her darkly expressionist reading of "I've Got You Under My Skin.") An enthusiastic new denizen of New York's cabaret scene, Brussell peppers her act with excellent songs by composers little known outside of it, plus a couple intricate comedic numbers: the delightfully spinning "I Wish" (which depicts a woman so nervous she's self-conscious about her self-consciousness) and "You Broke My Heart in Three," an encyclopedic send-up of the musical-theater hits she frankly adores. She also weaves in some thought-provoking comments on reincarnation and life's patterns without making you squirm too much. Pianist Christopher Marlowe provides the sole accompaniment, but a whole combo could hardly improve on his one-man orchestrations. And he's flexible, too: last week, the piano sprang an odd leak that caused a cluster of notes in the middle register to ring indefinitely, like unwanted pedal tones. Marlowe sussed them out without missing a beat, then proceeded to avoid them for the rest of the show without any apparent loss of musical information--the equivalent of driving to Milwaukee with both U.S. 41 and I-94 closed for repairs. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, Toulouse Cognac Bar, 2140 N. Lincoln Park West; 773-665-9071. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.