Where are we? Are we in Pink Panther land? Are we in the land of Nine? Are we in surrealistic Madrid of the 1980’s where we should be but aren’t?
No, we are in the Belasco Theatre becoming increasingly dizzy by the endless movement of the sets and highly gifted cast members and a taxi and telephones and cinematic projections that are frantically in constant motion but taking us nowhere in the new musical based on the film by Pedro Almodovar – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. That’s where we are. With a recipe for gazpacho instead of a memorable score by David Yazbek to take home with us.
All that Lincoln Center Theatre money. All that talent. All for naught in this big, busy over produced musical blur. It’s difficult to believe but Bartlett Sher has directed this wobbly vehicle.
I’ll try to be brief. Sherie Rene Scott (Pepa, a voice over actress famous for her Gazpacho commercials) is at a loss. So was I. Is she an American in Madrid or a native who has lost her accent? Anyway she is at a loss. Her actor/lover Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell) whose voice makes one melt has left her a phone message that he has left her – in meltdown mode. Ay Caramba!
His long suffering wife Lucia (Patti LuPone and she does have a semi-mad scene) wants to sue him for divorce after 19 years. Their sometimes stuttering son Carlos (Justin Guarini) is looking to leave mama’s nest and settle down with Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone). Pepa’s best friend/ model Candela (Laura Benanti) has found herself bedding a hunky terrorist Malik (Luis Salgado) and seeks help from the one person unable to even help herself – Pepa. Mama’s lawyer Paulina (de’Adre Aziza) has her own date with the lothario Ivan down the ever busy road that taxi driver Danny Burstein travels where all the pieces of the plot eventually collide in a court room where Ms. LuPone gives us her all.
The book by Jeffrey Lane doesn’t help. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown seems to be a dog chasing its own tail. Round and round we go. Where it ends, we all know but really don’t care for these semi serious semi cartoon-like characters.
There are some pearls to be found in this tainted oyster of a musical – the opening outfit for Ms. LuPone by Catherine Zuber, Laura Benanti’s telephone gambit, the spellbinding vocals by Mr. Mitchell and the impressive performance by Justin Guarini.
From the opening bullring like music from the orchestra that sound pre-recorded and are somehow being piped in from Pamplona the concept seems askew. There is a good musical to be based on Almodovar’s work but this isn’t it. The inconsistent style and tone upsets the gazpacho cart so to speak.
Ivan, the husband/lover to all advises his son that it doesn’t matter what you say it’s the sound that is important. He illustrates this by wooing his women with “blah,blah,blahs.” It’s unfortunate the creators of this misfired and misconceived show have followed his credo too closely with their own too many “blah,blah,blahs.”
www.lct.org Photo: Paul Kolnik