Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Julie Budd is Dynamic
at the Empire Plush Room

Also see Richard's reviews of Ragtime and Othello

Cabaret artist Julie Budd has finally returned to San Francisco for a two week engagement at the newly remodeled Empire Plush Room of the York Hotel. The room is a premiere venue for nationally renowned cabaret singers and Ms. Budd certainly fits that category. Rex Reed calls her "after dark magic"; she is a sublime cabaret artist for the after dark crowd. Budd is one of the most sophisticated, perceptive and dynamic singers today. The critics too often compare her to Barbra Streisand; however, Julie sticks to singing songs from the quality composers and she has amassed a dedicated following.

I remember one night about ten years ago in New York, we dropped in at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room for a late supper. At the late show, the room was not very crowded, but the singer, unknown to me at the time, sang her heart out to the small crowd. Afterwards, her mentor Herbie came over to our table and we were introduced to Julie. We immediately joined her fan club.

Julie has not been to San Francisco for a long time. She appeared here at the old City Supper Club on Montgomery Street in 1978, and her most recently appearance was in the New Orleans Room of the Fairmont Hotel - both venues are no longer in existence.

At the Empire Plush Room, Julie entertained a very appreciative audience for 90 minutes with classic standards and show songs. The Brooklyn belter with the showstopping voice has an amazing range. Her voice has no limits with a wonderful tender vibrato. She has mastered the sense of phrasing each number, whether it's a tender ballad or a showstopping song in the Ethel Merman style. She draws listeners into her lyrics. As a New York Times reviewer said "Julie Budd belts with the unguarded force of a diva."

Ms. Budd has an eclectic mix of wonderful songs in this show, starting with a smooth arrangement of Newley and Bricusse's "Pure Imagination." She segues immediately into Styne, Comden and Green's "Never Never Land." Her rendition of the Edith Piaf song, "If You Love Me," is sublime.

Stephen Sondheim is represented, with Budd's great version of "Being Alive," and she pays tribute to the legendary Oscar Hammerstein II through five songs, with smooth segues into each melody. She really belts out the melody of Hammerstein and Jerome Kern's "Bill." It is a heartrending version.

Julie really swings to a big band beat with the old Harry James song, "I'm Beginning to See the Light," then goes immediately into the soft and romantic "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," which one seldom hears these days. Julie's fans really go wild when she sings Randy Edelman's "Weekend in New England."

Cole Porter is brilliantly presented in songs from his hit show Anything Goes, immediately followed by songs by Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin and four songs from Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms. These songs did my old Broadway heart good.

The ladies are not forgotten as Julie ends her session with a Dorothy Fields Tribute. I was particularly impressed with her rendition "He Had Refinement" with the melody by Arthur Schwartz. I was reminded of seeing and hearing the legendary Shirley Booth sing that song in A Tree Goes in Brooklyn.

Julie's encore consists of two Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, one from Phantom and the other from Sunset Boulevard. Franc D'Ambrosio, who played Phantom here for five years was in the audience and I almost expected him to get up and join her in "Music of the Night." Her interpretation of "With One Look" is dramatic. The fans would not let her leave the stage and she came back with one final encore which was "I'll Be Seeing You."

Through the performance, Julie gives little insights into her growing up in the Borough Park section of New York and how she was taken to clubs when she was just 12 years old. She relates a very funny story about her parents, who had told her to "get her nose straightened up and marry a doctor," taking her to the famed Copa when she was 12. Peggy Lee was the headliner that night. The Copa always featured a large menu and on the back were drawings of that week headliners. Ms. Budd was determined to get Peggy Lee's autograph, even against her parents wishes. She marched backstage with menu in hand. Julie asked Peggy to sign the menu and the singer did, before proclaiming, "Get out of my way kid, I'm going on."

Julie Budd will be appearing at the Empire Plush Room of the York Hotel, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through Sunday August 15. For reservations call 415-885-2800 or visit Shawn Ryan appears there for six nights only starting on August 17 and Jason Graae follows from August 24 through September 5. Betty Buckley appears at the room from September 7 through the 26th.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema