A Woman of Will
nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
September 29, 2005
A Woman of Will is part play, part cabaret, part theatre history. Amanda McBroom (who composed Bette Midler’s signature song “The Rose”) wrote the lyrics, Joel Silberman wrote the music, and together they collaborated on the book. The show, directed by Silberman, isn’t very long, only about an hour-fifteen minutes with no intermission. There are sixteen songs and only one on-stage performer in star McBroom, although we do get to know other characters through messages left on voicemail—most notably, one particular voice, from beyond the grave, which offers comfort and assistance in the heroine’s moment of personal crisis.
In A Woman of Will, lyricist Kate has locked herself away in a Cleveland Holiday Inn to write the lyrics to a musical version of The Merchant of Venice, which in this case is a star vehicle for Jennifer Lopez called "The Merchant of Havana." Kate is struggling not only because she hasn’t written a song in years and years and the director is pressuring her for the work, but also because she’s distracted by the guilt of being a 52-year-old married woman who is having an affair with a much younger man. Whenever she can’t figure out a lyric—or her life—she ponders what one of Shakespeare’s heroines would do and then sings a song from that character’s perspective.
A Woman of Will is indeed clever—perhaps too much so. There are a lot of great ideas and concepts—definitely too many plot details for an hour-fifteen show to fully explore, and so makes Kate’s story come off as merely superficial. Four or five songs would have been more than sufficient, but here there are sixteen. Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of the novelty songs, they all sound alike. I thought Gertrude’s “In His Hands” was lovely, and it was hard to resist Goneril’s “The Bitch is Out,” but Ariel’s “Hard to Be a Fairy Blues” was just plain annoying.
The show abounds with menopause jokes and bitchy swipes at much-maligned Jennifer Lopez. While I had no use for those, I did appreciate the wonderful voicemail messages, particularly from Patrick Cassidy as the tenacious “Boyfriend” and George Ball as the confused, long-suffering “Husband”. What I didn’t get to hear nearly enough of was the voice of the ever-remarkable Jim Dale as the stern but compassionate “Playwright” who defies time and space to pass on advice to Kate. He comes much too late in the story, stays far too briefly, and his sudden departure left me feeling cheated.
The production values of A Woman of Will are terrific, especially in the moments when the handwritten text of Shakespeare’s folios are superimposed white on black against the walls of the far backdrop. It’s indeed refreshing to see a female main character who’s lived more than a little life as played by an actress with a normal, healthy, age-appropriate body. The beautiful 50-something McBroom isn't a skinny model-type. She can shake her booty and laugh at herself with the best of them, and her voice is just divine—although I felt that for someone who is supposed to be sequestered in a hotel room to get some writing done, she is awfully well dressed in silk and high heels. She looks more like a headliner about to appear at the Rainbow Room than a frustrated writer who’s about to put nose to the grindstone at the desk and find inspiration in vodka and Almond Joys.
A Woman of Will is, frankly, a bit too sincere and soap opera-ish for my taste, and has an old-fashioned Hollywood “girlie” style to it that belongs to an era I don’t really relate to. Nonetheless, I cannot deny that McBroom and Silberman deserve credit for showing some “once more unto the breach” spirit.