Amanda McBroom is perhaps best known as the composer of the award winning title song to the Bette Midler film "The Rose," but that is only one facet of this talented artist's career. McBroom actually began her career as a singing actress in the original Broadway production of Seesaw as well as the Off-Broadway and national touring companies of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. It was her husband, actor George Ball, who encouraged McBroom to explore her songwriting skills, which eventually led to a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song as well as an acclaimed concert and recording career. Now, the Los Angeles-based actress is set to return to the New York stage in a one-woman show she penned with frequent collaborator Joel Silberman. Entitled A Woman of Will, the musical concerns a writer in crisis who attempts to write the lyrics for a musical version of The Merchant of Venice. When all else fails, "Kate" turns to Shakespeare's women — Juliet, Gertrude, Lady Macbeth, among others — for guidance. This musical celebration of life — boasting 17 songs — begins previews Sept. 15 at the Daryl Roth Theatre with an official opening set for Oct. 2. I recently had the chance to chat with McBroom about her latest adventure; that brief interview follows.
Question: How did the idea for A Woman of Will originally come about?
Amanda McBroom: Joel Silberman [has] been my musical director for several years. I'd written a couple of songs from the point of view of Shakespeare's feminine heroines. What would Juliet say if she was alive today? Or Gertrude? Or Lady Macbeth? I got a couple of them going, and then Joel and I looked at each other and said, "This might make an interesting show," so we proceeded to write a story from the point of view of "What would they say?" [Laughs.] We started taking all these fabulous women and saying, "Okay, who's singing rock-n-roll? Who's doing the disco number?," and what do they have to say that's appropriate?
Q: Is this the first time you've written songs with someone rather than writing both music and lyrics yourself?
McBroom: Oh, no, I have several different collaborators. I've written songs with a lot of people.
Q: How does that process work — writing with someone versus writing on your own?
McBroom: I consider it much more fun. It's much more fun to write with someone else, and Joel is a fabulous composer. I feel my greatest strength is my lyrics. I do write good melodies, but they come hard, lyrics come easy, and with Joel, melodies just drip out of him from morning to night. So, it was a really easy thing. I would write a lyric, and I'd say, "Here!" [Laughs.] And, sometimes within an hour, he'd say, "Here!"
Q: Tell me about some of the changes in the musical since the original production, which was titled Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues. How has the show evolved?
McBroom: It's now two acts rather than one, [and] it now has three new songs.
Q: What are some of the song titles?
McBroom: There's a song that Olivia sings called "Suddenly Love." There is a song called "Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues." There's a song that Goneral sings called "The Bitch Is Out." Juliet sings a song called "Tomorrow Is Born Tonight."
Q: How demanding is the show for you since you're the only one onstage?
McBroom: [Long Laugh.] What kind of fool was I? I kick myself all the time!
Q: How do you go about protecting your voice for eight shows a week?
McBroom: This is going to be interesting. When I did the show out [in California], we did it for six [shows a week]. That worked pretty well, and by the end of it I considered myself an Olympic singer. [Laughs.] I'm getting back in shape now. I'm doing a lot of working and vocalizing, but I think that I'm going to have to learn how not to talk on the phone and how to just take really good care of myself. I was talking to my pal, Tovah Feldshuh. We were talking about her one-woman Golda Meir [show], and she said, "Darling, face it, you just don't have a life!"
Q: Your first really big success as a writer came with "The Rose." When did your singing career start?
McBroom: Well, I've sung in musicals since I was a little kid. I started professionally in musicals when I was in college. I was in Seesaw when it opened on Broadway before God made the world. [Laughs.] I was in Jacques Brel Off-Broadway for many years, so I've always been a singing actress, but the songwriting was a complete surprise. I had never written a song in my life. We were on the road with Jacques Brel doing the national tour, and I picked up a guitar one day and I wrote a song. And my husband said, "What's that?" And I said, "I don't know!" [Laughs.] And he said, "Whatever it is, it's really good." So I just started writing for my own amusement and occasionally singing in little clubs around Los Angeles. Then I wrote "The Rose," and through a series of divine things that I had no control over and had no idea were going to happen, it got in the movie, and that changed everything. Everybody kept looking at me saying, "Oh, you're a songwriter." And I kept saying, "No, I'm not. I'm Liza Minnelli — I'm not a songwriter." [Laughs.] And, my husband finally said, "Let's see what's paying the mortgage this month. Perhaps you should say you are a songwriter." Because of that I started getting concert work, and I started having a recording career.
Q: Do you still get royalties for "The Rose"?
McBroom: Oh yes, darling. The royalties for "The Rose" have afforded me to be able to write a show and bring it to New York. [Laughs.]
Q: One of my favorite recordings of your songs is Betty Buckley's "Ship in a Bottle." Do you have any favorite covers of your work?
McBroom: Oh, she does it beautifully. . . Barbara Cook singing "Errol Flynn" breaks my heart. Just the fact that Barbara Cook sings any of my material! And, Judy Collins doing my song "Dreamin'."
Q: You mentioned before about performing in Jacques Brel. I was wondering if you could talk a little about his music.
McBroom: I didn't know anything about him being raised ignorant in Texas. When I was first introduced to the music of Jacques Brel, I was totally floored. I had never heard anything as intelligent or sexy or angry as his music. I was hired to do the show, and I loved singing it. I don't think I've ever loved singing anybody else's music as much as that. And, I realize now his music is very, very formative to the way I write. He is my strongest writing influence I think.
Q: Will there be a recording of A Woman of Will?
McBroom: Yes, we already did it. It should be out within the month. It'll be under the auspices of Ashley Road Productions, which is the entity that is producing the show.
Q: You also wrote the musical Heartbeats. Does that still get performed?
McBroom: Yes, it does — not as often as it should, and I'm hoping that it will be revived. It's a very timely musical for right about now.
Q: Was there ever any talk of Heartbeats coming to New York?
McBroom: There was a production of it that was done at a really nice theatre in New Jersey. At the time, the audiences adored it, but the critics were not so sure, and the people who were going to bring it in decided not to. So, it hasn't yet gotten its Off-Broadway feet wet. So, hopefully, maybe [Woman of Will] will cause enough attention to be paid, and the spotlight will turn back on that one.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
McBroom: I actually do. One is a CD of all Jacques Brel material. That will be the first time that I have ever recorded a CD of all somebody else's material. That was supposed to happen this year, but then the one woman show took precedence, so I'm hoping that will be recorded this winter. The other thing is a big musical that I'm writing with my other collaborator — Michele Brourman — based on a film called "Dangerous Beauty." We just did [a workshop of] it in the New York Stage and Film theatre festival [at Vassar].
[The Daryl Roth Theatre is located in Manhattan at 101 East 15th Street, at Union Square. Tickets for A Woman of Will are currently available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com. For more information go to www.AWomanOfWill.com.]
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