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A CurtainUp Review
A Woman of Will
It was bound to happen. With the one-person play having become theatrical standard and even winning a Pulitzer (I Am My Own Wife), could the one-person musical be far behind?
A Woman of Will with singer and lyricist (her most famous lyric: "The Rose" written for the Bette Midler film of the same name) Amanda McBroom is a perky entry into the mono-musical genre. Using a time-tested concept of a Broadway show in the making (or unmaking), Ms. McBroom and her collaborator and director Joel Silberman have created what is essentially a concert masquerading as a book musical and the show's concert roots are as visible as those dark roots sported by so many of today's bottle blondes.
Ms. McBroom is a likeable performer and the music and lyrics are enjoyably easy on the ears. What's more, she's a pretty good actress. The lovely voice that can move interestingly from alto to soprano, from sad and sultry torch song to snappy can-do pop tune and comic novelty number, also rings loud and clear in the brief bits and pieces of spoken text that lead into the songs that are thematically linked to Shakespeare's women. It was a song cycle about the Bard's favorite ladiesthat led to the birth of this show several years ago.
The book, thin and derivative as it is, serves its purpose. It replaces the cabaret soloist's patter as the means for introducing and tying together the evening's songs. The setting is Cleveland (yes, really!) where a modern musical version of The Merchant of Venice, to be called The Merchant of Havana, is about to have its pre-Broadway opening -- that is if Kate, the lyricist who's holed up in a local hotel, can finish the incomplete libretto.
To pave the way for the torchy tunes McBroom shines at, Kate must not only grapple with writer's block but a marital crisis (a marriage grown stale and the temptation of a new tomorrow with a way too young lover). To heighten all this mid-life career and personal sturm and drang and create a sense of a multi-character story, Silverman and McBroom also rely heavily on another commonly used theatrical device, the telephone answering machine. And so, whenever the phone rings (which it does with increasingly annoying frequency), Kate's recorded "I'm writing, you know what to do" is followed by a frantic plea from various people involved with the unfinished Merchant in Havana musical, as well as Kate's worried husband and insistently romantic boyfriend. (Casting the voice-overs with well-known people seems an unnecessarily flashy touch).
If all this sounds formulaic and manufactured, it is. The songs and their lively presentation triumph over triviality often enough to keep the audience entertained. The introductory business that ties Kate's dilemma to some of Will's women and their survival techniques is given a strong stylistic assist from scenic projection and lighting designer Trefoni Michael Rizzi.
A brief reminiscence about how her father introduced her to Shakespeare leads into " Words" in which Kate sings about her reliance on words from the likes of Moliere, Chekhov and O'Neill but declares that the one who inspires and spurs her on is Will. Her feeling at bay in her marriage and writing (the latter exacerbated by a painful betrayal by the erstwhile collaborator who left her the unfinished Merchant libretto is expressed in the melancholy " Ophelia." On a more upbeat note, there's the tough, blues-y The Bitch Is Out and the defiantly peppy "Stand Up" inspired by Kate's shrewish namesake ("stand up, show them what you're thinking . . . stand up, show them what you're made of. . . ") which has the floor underneath Kate actually pop up with tinselly streamers to have her stand really tall.
The show's big novelty number, "Lady MacBeth Sings the Blues," has McBroom as an advice to the lovelorn seeker with a thick Scottish accent. She confides that her dreams are troubled by her ambitious husband Mac "whose job is in the government" and who "now wanders the woods wracked with guilt." As she explains "it seems to me important things he's threatening to forget" and that "he's hardly had his sword out and believe me lately nothings' going on beneath his kilt " She winds up her litany of worries with "the prozac's running out. . . and, as an afterthought, "do you know a trick for getting stains out of a rug-"
While McBroom is agile and energetic, she's not a dancer so Thommie Walsh's choreography is more a case of movement than any real dance routines. To maintain the aura of a play which happens to constantly burst into song, the excellent five-piece band remains unseen at the rear of the set.
This show has undergone a lot of diddles since it began to metamorphose from song cycle to musical. That includes toying with stretching it to accommodate an intermission (an idea wisely abandoned for the present play-through eighty-minute format). There's also been a savvy name change. The original, Lady MacBeth Sings the Blues was catchy but fairly screamed "cabaret act" -- not to mention that it was likely to be tainted by its built-in association with the curse attributed to the Scottish play and the tendency of many theater goers to be skittish about all things Shakespeare. While this show by any other name is still more cabaret than book musical, the current title definitely has more of a play resonance. The Will is a double play on words, referring not just to the Bard but to Kate's journey from mid-life, menopausal woman full of regrets about roads not taken to one with renewed will. To give this modern day Portia the final push " to stand up and show them" there's yet another of those celebrity voices -- this one not via the answering machine. It belongs to Jim Dale but I won't tell you who he is supposed to be -- but then, I'm pretty sure you can guess.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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