DIVA TALK: Chatting with Woman of Will's Amanda McBroom, Returning to Piazza and a Wicked Thought
By Andrew Gans
August 19, 2005
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
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.]
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of returning to A Light in the Piazza at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Some musicals suffer on repeat viewings — but not Piazza. In fact, I was even more impressed by the Adam Guettel-Craig Lucas musical this time around, more convinced than ever that it was the best musical of the 2004-2005 season. I had wondered whether knowing the resolution of the plot might affect my evening; rather than hindering my enjoyment, however, I found I was more relaxed and better able to savor each moment. I was more taken with Craig Lucas' book, which unfolds beautifully over the emotionally fulfilling two acts, and Adam Guettel's score — which I continue to listen to almost daily on CD — was as ravishing as ever. Among my current favorites are "The Beauty Is," "Il Mondo Era Vuoto," "Dividing Day," "Say It Somehow," "Love to Me," "Fable" and the glorious title tune. And, the book and score are in the beautiful hands and voices of a letter-perfect cast led by a triumvirate of talent: Victoria Clark, Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Morrison. All three were more powerful than ever, having become one with their respective roles: O'Hara's voice soars throughout the Beaumont as she perfectly capture's Clara's longing and childlike innocence. Morrison's yearning and subsequent joy at finding the love of his life are palpable, and his rendition of "Love to Me" is a heartbreaker. And, Tony Award winner Clark is simply perfect as doting mother Margaret Johnson from Winston-Salem. Clark is one of the few musical theatre actresses whose comedic moments register as fully as her dramatic ones. Her rendition of "Fable" is an emotional explosion, creating a performance that is now one of my all-time favorites, and one not to be missed. Add to that the evocative (and Tony winning) costume, lighting and scenic design of Catherine Zuber, Christopher Akerlind and Michael Yeargan, and one feels like grabbing a loose-fitting hat and heading off to Italy, or, at least, back to the Beaumont. That is where the beauty is. [The Light in the Piazza plays the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.]
A Wicked idea: Now that so many actresses have had the chance to don green make-up to play the not-so-wicked Wicked Witch of the West, how about a new recording featuring the many Elphabas? It could be called "The Green Album" and feature each subsequent Elphaba — Shoshana Bean, Eden Espinosa, Stephanie J. Block and Ana Gasteyer — singing her four big numbers: "The Wizard and I," "Defying Gravity," "I'm Not That Girl" and "No Good Deed." I suppose a follow-up CD could be "The Blonde Album" with the various Glindas singing their Stephen Schwartz show-stoppers.
Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, the upcoming musical celebration of the life and art of Tony Award-winning Broadway gypsy Chita Rivera, will begin previews Nov. 23 at Broadway's Schoenfeld Theatre. The Dancer's Life, as previously announced, will make its world premiere at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre Sept. 10-Nov. 6 before arriving on Broadway in the fall. The musical will officially open on Broadway Dec. 11. Tickets for Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life on Broadway ($55-$100) will go on sale Sept. 24 by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com. The Schoenfeld Theatre box office will open Oct. 17.
Andrea Marcovicci, who has been dubbed the "Queen of Cabaret," will bring her newest act, Just Love. . . , to Hollywood's Gardenia next month. From Sept. 14-17 the talented chanteuse will perform an evening of songs drawn from her two decades of singing in clubs and concert halls around the world. Just Love "celebrates the fragile human heart through songs, stories and poems and returns Andrea to her most spontaneous, witty and off-the-cuff self." Show time is 9 PM. Marcovicci will also release her latest solo recording Sept. 20. Entitled "Andrea Sings Astaire," the CD includes the tunes from Marcovicci's recent act devoted to the life and songs of the late Fred Astaire. Among the gems Marcovicci interprets are "One for My Baby," "Cheek to Cheek" and "The Continental." The Gardenia is located on Santa Monica Blvd; for reservations, call (323) 467-7444.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.