A Musical on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Back in the 1980s, the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar created a movie called "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."  I've never seen the movie.  A few weeks ago, a new musical show open on Broadway, also titled "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "based on the film" with book by Jeffrey Lane and Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek.  I saw last night's performance at the recently-restored Belasco Theatre.

One of the main goals of going to this production was to see what they had done with the Belasco, a grand old house that had hit an advanced state of decreptitude.  Well, it looks marvelous.  The restored ceiling, nice seats, new carpeting, refurbished murals, etc., provide a great setting for theater, although one can still complain about the lack of leg-room, since I don't think they decreased the seating at all.  Anybody who is not vertically challenged will experience some degree of discomfort in this old, traditionally layed-out Broadway house…. but what else is new?

That aside, what was on offer last night?  I would not go so far as to say "dreck," a word I overheard from some of the less-than-overwhelmingly-enthused audience members.  But I came away feeling that the performers were much better than the vehicle they were given.  Some of the top Broadway musical theater performers of the day were conscripted into this messy production, including Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Laura Benanti, and — front and center and deserving incredible applause — Sherie Rene Scott as the lead "woman" in the cast.  But the material they were given to work with was not in the same high class.  Mitchell's fantastic big, deep voice, which he wields with such authority and musicality, was given pathetic lyrics to sing and merely adequate tunes.  And so it went for much of the show.  There was one lost opportunity after another.  There was no big duet moment for Mitchell and LuPone (who was drastically underused in her role as the spurned wife).  Laura Benanti was given the most crowd-pleasing stuff, and she made the most of it.  Danny Burstein as a gabby Madrid cab driver seemed an unnecessary addition to this show – except to show off a snazzy prop that he wielded with authority. 

Much of the first act had me wondering what was going on down there on the stage.  Toward the end of the act things became a bit more organized dramatically, and I found Act II much more coherent and interesting than Act I.  (Too bad for those who gave up in disgust and left at intermission.)  In the second act, Justin Guarini and Nikka Graff Lanzarone, protraying secondary characters, blossomed into the more interesting characters on the stage, Mary Beth Peil got to do her thing… and La LuPone was a bit more present and had a few terrific comic turns (but shoot whoever costumed and made her up as a Morticia Adams clone toward the end of Act I).  Maybe the problem is that the show was just not ready for prime time on Broadway and could have done with much more workshopping and out-of-town tryouting….  As a bigtime Broadway musical, this doesn't quite cut it.

On the other hand, there were certainly visual attractions on stage.  The sets were terrific, and moved around wonderfully.  Projections and costumes were splendid.  There was a few awesome special effects.  And some of the guys and gals on display, in various tight fitting and strategically open costumes, provided plenty of visual diversion.  (Loved the rear view of the terrorist!!!)  It just did not all gel…

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