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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

This surprisingly humorless and musically disappointing adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's film squanders some of Broadway's brightest talents.

Patti LuPone and Sherie Rene Scott in
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
(© Paul Kolnik)
If waste were the eighth deadly sin, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, now at the Belasco Theatre under the auspices of Lincoln Center Theater, would be accused of committing it big-time. Rarely has a show squandered so much major musical comedy talent.

Up there on the beautifully refurbished Belasco stage are such luminaries as Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Benanti, Sherie Rene Scott, Danny Burstein, Justin Guarini, de'Adre Aziza, Alma Cuervo, and Mary Beth Piel. But what these boffo performers have been asked to do by librettist Jeffrey Lane and songwriter David Yazbeck is to make their third-rate adaptation of Pedro Almovodar's 1988 film work like gangbusters.

Moreover, while Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher tries to keep things moving as lickety-split as possible, Michael Yeargan's busy set heaves and lifts, Sven Ortel's hectic projections bombard the upstage wall, and audiences begin to contemplate a breakdown of their own.

Fans of the 1988 movie who thought the film would make great sense as a tuner will be baffled at how the skillfully crafted, hilarious flick has deteriorated into such a nearly incoherent shambles. Lane faithfully retains not only the plot but much of Almodovar's loopy, larky dialogue, yet what was fun on celluloid is merely, and unceasingly, humorless on stage.

The plot focuses on Spanish actress Pepa (Scott, giving her all, but hardly her best), who learns via answering machine that her longtime lover (and fellow actor) Ivan (Mitchell, in a severely undefined role) is leaving her. Verging on one of those titular breakdowns, she tries to get to the bottom of his unexpected departure and over the course of a couple days becomes entangled with Ivan's formerly-and-possibly-still crazy wife Lucia (LuPone), their timid son Carlos (Guarini), his bossy girlfriend Marisa (lissome Nikka Graff Lanzarone), Lucia's headstrong lawyer Paulina (the smoldering Aziza), and a friendly cab driver (Burstein), who always seems to be where Pepa needs him.

At the same time as Pepa's breaking down, she's also catering to breakdown-verging chum Candela (Benanti in full ditz bloom), a vacuous if good-natured model who is terrified the police will find out about her latest romantic conquest, a Shiite terrorist. He shows up -- as does the entire cast -- for the show's climactic episode at a local courthouse, where things more-or-less get sorted out. (In the film, the scene took place at the airport.)

While Yazbek's previous scores for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Full Monty were thoroughly delightful, he fails on the musical end here. Why the show begins with an extraneous paean to Madrid delivered by Burstein is unclear, when a number introducing the for-the-most-part amorphous characters would be immeasurably beneficial. And the songs which Mitchell booms -- one with the lyric "Tomorrow is an ice cream sandwich" -- are cumulatively insulting.

Meanwhile, LuPone does well with her big second-act number, "Invisible," but the attempt to give her another "Rose's Turn" is dreadfully obvious. Only the first-act closer "On the Verge," with women bouncing on long, colorful rubbery ropes, comes closest to capturing Almodovar's adorable madness.

In all this mess, only one person truly comes off well: wig-and-hair man Charles LaPointe. Everyone else just seems to be wigging out.