I have heard the WORST buzz on any show this season on “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” the musical version of Pedro Almodovar’s Camp Classic, with two Capital Cs. This is an important even seminal work in the worldwide gay ouevre. And Pedro Almodovar is my personal gay god.
It was Almodovar’s breakthough film internationally. But here, in this version, at the Belasco, well, if you want to see a show having a nervous breakdown right in front of you. and all these talented people with it, run, don’t walk to the Belasco, because I fear it’s not going to be around for very long.
How could you take this hilarious movie and make a musical that is NOT FUNNY?!? There is no wit visisble in “Women on the Verge…”Every line seemed to land with a thud. And, and it’s just not well, gay, enough. I’ll be surprised if it’s still open by the time I finish typing this sentence.
But gays are the audience for this, if indeed there is any audience at all. And you have some of the best musical comedy actresses of our time, including Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Sherrie Rene Scott and make them ALLLL not funny? Well, director Bartlett Sher and composer David Yazbeck have done just that.And Jeffrey Lane the book writer has to take a lot of the blame, too. For this brightly-hued mess.
At one point, towards the end of the painful first act, all these uber-talented women were STARING at each other, with “What the hell are we doing here?” looks on their faces. And I’m sure much of the audience was thinking the same thing.
It sure is colorful enough. In fact, director Sher seems to have spent all his time and energy on the extremely overwhelming, but colorful projected backdrops, that display more excitement than the actors do. Which is a shame.
In fact, the never-for-a-moment-still projections by Sven Ortel, overwhelm most of the actors, and you watch them instead of the mere mortals trying valiantly to hold up their ends of the bargain. Sher obviously wants to direct a movie. But this isn’t A MOVIE! It’s a Broadway musical! Now, he did just fine with “Light in the Piazza” but that had a magnificently lush and romantic score by Adam Guettel. Here the score is just thumpingly serviceable. The music should make it fly, not give you a nervous breakdown.
Wasn’t this the show that was a hit in London and that’s why they brought it here? Can’t be the same production. It’s certainly not a British cast, for a change.
There’s been soooo many British shows and British actors on Broadway this year I thought I had moved to England.
What’s missing is the light-hearted , De-LIGHT-ful light touch that camp needs to succeed. It needed a homosexual writing the score, I’m afraid, and David Yazbeck who is talented and has succeeded on Bway with shows based on movies like “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Soundrels” has come a cropper with “Breakdown.” His score is thumpingly straight and frankly too serious for a delicate, camp subject like this.
He and Sher, both heterosexuals, married with children, just don’t get it. And they’ve ruined what should have been a sublimely frothy show into something shrill and almost unbearable. Y’know, like A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. It made me want to watch the movie again. But not this musical. Life is too short.
And what a shame it is to see the great Patti LuPone wasted like this!
However she and Danny Burstein, are the only two performaners here who seems to hit just the right high notes as a crazy Madrid cab-driver with peroxided blond hair. They are the shows bright spots. And it does have them. And Burstein has the entire opening number to himself called “Madrid Is My Mother” and I thought, Wow! This really might be something! And to hell with all the bad buzz, then as the show wore on and on and only brightened when La LuPone crossed the stage in a parade of outrageous ’60s hats and costumes, or when she sang, did it sputter to life. She has one solo number called “Invisible” and she stops the show. And it needed stopping.
The shows creators never seem to find the CHARM and the warmth of Almodovar’s world, except when Patti or Burstein were center stage.
And a lot of this also has to be laid at the doors of Sherrie Rene Scott, who is the leading lady here, in her first serious acting role. And she was never known for her serious acting. She has to anchor the whole show. Not BE an anchor. It’s like she’s this dead-weight the musical has to keep dragging back on stage. She seems to be playing depressed. And it’s depressing as opposed to comical.
And Laura Benanti, who won a Tony for her performance as Gypsy in “Gypsy,” is simply strident and hysterical, but not funny- hysterical, just hysterical- hysterical. Like as in annoying.
Carmen Maura, if memory serves, was just instantly lovable as Pepa, the lead in the movie version. You were instantly on her side. You wanted her to succeed in all the crazy attempts she makes to NOT have a nervous breakdown. She had warmth. She had charm. She had style. She had class. She had humor. It was the greatest FUN to watch her try NOT to have a nervous breakdown. Whereas poor Sherie Rene Scott seems to actually be clinically depressed.
And the subtitles in the movie were funnier than the lines in this play. Maybe it should’ve been all in Spanish with subtitles. So sad, so sad.
Luis Salgado who was in the chorus of “In the Heights” here gets an actual memorable role as the non-speaking Malik the terrorist who is the amour of Laura Benanti’s character. He gets to be nude upstage of Benanti getting out of bed, and then dresses and comes back later clad only in a towel. Now THAT’S Almodovarian! And I’m sure Pedro would agree.
O Dios Mio! Oh! And Brian Stokes Mitchell is in this too as the man all the women are obsessing over. And that makes some kind of sense. But since he’s wasted with mediocre songs and lines, too. He barely registers.