Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Almost. This is almost a really good musical. But not quite. Jeffrey Lane’s book, by itself, is an entertaining adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 film. David Yazbek’s Latin-tinged score has plenty of life, especially the infectious title song. But they don’t quite line up, and even occasionally get in each other’s way.

The story follows Pepa (Sherie Rene Scott), a television actress and movie dubber, for two days after her lover Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell) has suddenly left her. She agitatedly tries to find him, in the process learning his secrets and rethinking her feelings.

Lane and Yazbek have definitely picked up on the sense that Almodóvar’s movie is, among other things, a heartfelt love letter to Madrid, opening with a big number dedicated to the city. Danny Burstein, as a mambo-loving Taxi Driver, works hard to put it over, but it doesn’t quite land like it should – and I’m not sure why.

That sort of thing happens all night long – a number almost gets there, but fizzles out. Or it works just fine on its own terms, but totally stops the action. Pepa and Ivan have at least one song apiece that are completely unnecessary. I put some of this on director Bartlett Sher’s shoulders, since a new musical needs a director strong enough to let the songwriting team know their beautiful new song isn’t going to cut it theatrically.

Most often the songs are quite wonderful, but are either too long or too slow to match the dramatic demands of the story. Because Women on the Verge is a farce, and farces live or die on pacing and timing (which is why there are so few successful musical farces – there’s no space for the songs).

The cast is beyond marvelous: Scott’s trademark wry humor sits very well on Pepa, and Mitchell is suave perfection as the caddish Ivan. Patti LuPone is deliciously crazy as Ivan’s certifiable ex-wife Lucia, and her two big solos are quite satisfying. And Laura Benanti steals every scene as ditzy model Candela.

I enjoyed Women on the Verge more than many Broadway musicals I’ve seen – it’s a fun, tuneful mess with a knock-out cast working very hard. But is it worth today’s Broadway’s high ticket prices? Well, almost.

For tickets, click here.

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