Heroic efforts from the remarkable singing actresses Laura Benanti, Patti LuPone and Sherie Rene Scott and the equally accomplished Brian Stokes Mitchell can’t disguise the fact that “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” is an unholy mess.
Along the way to Broadway from Pedro Almodovar’s off-beat Madrid, inspiration suffered its own breakdown.
It may, of course, have been too much to ask for such different sensibilities to have melded seamlessly. Yet neither would one have supposed the adapted vehicle -- book by Jeffrey Lane and score by David Yazbek -- would suffer four flat tires on top of engine failure. But that’s what has happened to this production, staged without much whimsy by Bartlett Sher.
For a practically nonexistent plot, the story of “Women on the Verge” defies easy summary. Lucia (LuPone), a termagant who has been away 19 years, partly in a mental hospital, has returned to confront and sue her fickle husband Ivan (Mitchell), a film director.
Also pursuing the elusive fellow is overwrought Pepa (Rene Scott), his mistress, a voice-over actress. Candela (Benanti), a dim model, is chasing Malik, a Shiite terrorist whom she has just bedded and who is wanted by the police.
There is also the Taxi Driver, who appears whenever Pepa needs a ride, making one suspect that Madrid has only one cab. Further, we get Ivan and Lucia’s son Carlos, a student now engaged to Marisa, a pair managing to get in the way of all the pursuers.
Along the way, we bump into two elderly concierges, flighty young Ana and her motor-biking lover, Ambite, and Paulina, Lucia’s sexy lawyer, who also ends up falling for Ivan’s blandishments.
Diverse minor characters thicken the plot and thin the oxygen. The result is a mix of traditional farce with surreal touches, whereby persons materialize in places to which credibility would not have granted them access. A free-for-all then, in which everyone is mostly on the run, something the camera can handle but the stage not so well -- despite Michael Yeargan’s slick set design and Brian MacDevitt’s canny lighting.
It doesn’t help that Sven Ortel’s projections are at least 15 years behind the times and that neither the gifted special- effects man Gregory Meeh, nor the worthy costumer Catherine Zuber, is in top form here. Scott, especially, looks awkward in her tight skirts. LuPone is topped off by an unfelicitous wig.
But the chief culprits are Lane’s scattershot book and Yazbek’s ho-hum songs, not one of them memorable.
Major changes in the show were being made right up until the last minute, to no avail. It is noteworthy that for a musical about women, the creative team had not one on it. Perhaps that was the first of many mistakes.
At the Belasco Theater, 111 W. 44th St. Information: +1- 212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com Rating: * 1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Do Not Miss *** Excellent ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(John Simon is the New York drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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