If you can imagine a musical version of “The Merchant of Venice” set in Havana starring Jennifer Lopez as Portia, you might buy into Amanda McBroom’s tenuous storyline in “A Woman of Will,” her tedious one-person show that tests the quality of a critic’s mercy. But even J. Lo as a Shakespearean heroine has more cred than this cliche-filled show devised by McBroom and composer/co-writer Joel Silberman, about a lyric writer holed up in an out-of-town hotel, struggling to find the words for the 11 o’clock number in that fictitious Broadway musical.
Lyricist Kate McNeill (McBroom) not only suffers — and the aud along with her — from writer’s block but is concurrently having an anxiety attack about her life, career and marriage. Distraught to distraction, she talks to herself — and aud — and supplies the clunky backstory exposition. During her kvetching, she receives a steady stream of phone messages from a bullying director, nagging agent, neglectful husband and younger lover.
A lifelong lover of the Bard, she turns to the women of William Shakespeare’s canon to reflect and articulate her late midlife crisis: “Shrew’s” Kate commands her to “Stand Up”; Goneril vents in “The Bitch Is Out”; Ariel laments being unappreciated in “The Hard-to-Be-a-Fairy Blues.”
Other songs seem to have the thinnest connection to Shakespeare’s characters — or even a misunderstood one. “Lady Macbeth Sings the Blues” is presented as a letter written to Ann Landers complaining about her husband’s ambitions without acknowledging Lady M’s own upwardly mobile drive.
Fans of McBroom’s cabaret career may be disappointed in the material, which offers few tunes that could have life beyond this vehicle. “Is It Love?” “Suddenly Love” and “I Choose to Love” are pleasant enough, but they have a been-there, sung-that cabaret-circuit familiarity.
It wouldn’t be quite so trying if the character of the lyricist were more engaging or not as self-centered and self-pitying. But McBroom’s Kate is not especially interesting or appealing. The show’s ostensible narrative thrust — finishing the lyric to a single song — just isn’t strong enough to compensate for the endless exasperation over her writer’s block.
Script also suffers from lack of basic developmental scrutiny. Lead-off song about being stuck in Cleveland signals the well-worn tracks of the material. (Plus, what Broadway-bound musical opens in Cleveland?) Relationship of the lyricist’s current musical gig to her former writing partner, who, we learn, is deceased, is not clear. Attempts at humor are strained. You know you’re in trouble when your biggest laughs come from a T-shirt slogan and a Melissa Manchester crack.
Show ends when the voice of the Bard (Jim Dale) shows Kate the way by pointing her to Portia’s plea for forgiveness and prompting the lyricist to grow up and make a choice already, something the audience may have been feeling all along. Of course this begs the question about whether McBroom’s character understood Portia in the first place.
In a line of breathtaking hubris, Shakespeare tells her: “Ah, Portia — a most complex character. You remind me of her.” J. Lo looks better all the time.