Sunday, October 24, 2010

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown ***: a first look

NOTE: It's highly likely that the show that opens on November 4 will differ significantly from what I saw today, but I thought it was still worthwhile to share my impressions of the show in its present form.

How brave it was for anyone to attempt a musical adaptation of Almodovar's wickedly funny 1988 film. His sensibility is so idiosyncratic that it must have been quite a challenge to rework his comedy for the musical stage. (Rumor has it that he has played an active role in the effort.) Overall, I would say that the result is successful. Jeffrey Lane's book is funny and clever with several laugh-out-loud moments. David Yazbek's lyrics and Latin-infused music serve the story well even if there are no breakout hits. Director Bartlett Sher once again shows he has a way with a musical. The costumes are wildly over the top, as is appropriate. The set is a wonder, with its colorful projections of Madrid (which malfunctioned in the second act) and its restlessly moving components, which include a taxi and a motorcycle. The choreography is lively with nods to flamenco and tango. The casting is good down to the smallest role. Sherie Renee Scott is not an obvious choice for Pepa, but she handles the role creditably. Patti LuPone is a hoot as Lucia and Laura Benanti, as Candela, steals every scene she is in. Brian Stokes Mitchell makes Ivan's caddishness a joy to behold. However, there are second act problems.The last two musical numbers listed on the program were not performed. The show ended so abruptly that I was caught by surprise. I'm sure they are working hard to get the ending right before opening night. Despite these problems, I found the show a delight and can happily recommend it.

P.S. Kudos to the Shubert Organization for "refurbishing" the Belasco Theatre. With its glittering stained glass, its lavish gilding and its overripe murals, it provides the perfect setting for Almodovar's larger-than-life emotions.

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