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November 5, 2010


Review: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

by Jesse North

There’s a lot happening on stage at Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but unfortunately, not enough of the right things. This new David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane musical is jam-packed with Broadway A-listers, but unfortunately, Broadway’s best actors don’t write. Which asks the question: why would the likes of Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Sherie Rene Scott sign on to a show with such poor writing?

Based on the 1988 Pedro Almodovar film of the same name, the story finds Pepa (Scott) dumped via answering machine by her lover Ivan (Mitchell). The message sends her into a “Why me??” rampage across Madrid, in which she meets Ivan’s wife, Lucia (LuPone), who is just as “Why me??”—only funnier. Pepa’s airhead of a pal (Laura Benanti) finds out she might be dating a terrorist and Lucia’s son’s fiancée (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) thinks her future husband might have separation issues with his mother, and before you know it, they’re all crying “Why me??

Why this show? Why now? Why would Yazbek, Lane, and director Barlett Sher (of the fantastic South Pacific revival) unite this cast for such a paper-thin musical? Since the show is only scheduled to run till only the end of January, perhaps it’s because these actors figured this would be an easy showcase. And it is—no one in the cast breaks a sweat.

Scott gives a vacant performance as Pepa, unable even to make her character’s whininess authentic. Lanzarone gives off a “Why am I even here?” air to her performance. The fantastic de’Adre Aziza (Passing Strange) isn’t given anything to work with. (She understudies the role of Pepa, which I would be very keen on seeing.)

No one in Women on the Verge is given much character depth. That said, Patti LuPone makes a refreshing switch from her usual weighty roles and absolutely relishes in her eccentric Lucia. Whether she’s shamelessly ripping off a wig or standing in front of a Picasso painting and declaring how terrible she looks, LuPone is having a blast on stage, and thus gives the audience some of the evening’s few charms. Danny Burstein, hot off his last Sher collaboration with South Pacific, can once again be counted upon to bring the charm. His Taxi Driver doesn’t do much but spin Pepa around the stage in a crazy cab a few times, but each time is a welcome arrival. The real credit in the cast goes to Benanti, who is a riot as the model Candela. She’s a delightful twit with perfect timing, hilarious facial twists, and spot-on physical comedy. She delivers the best number of the show with “Model Behavior,” as she leaves a call-screening Pepa an innumerable amount of I-need-your-help voicemails.

Mitchell and Justin Guarini (yes, of American Idol fame) are charming as father and son, but it seems that Lane and Yazbek completely forgot to develop their characters. Lucky for Mitchell, he does get “Microphone,” his only moment to slather on that baritone sensuality and humor.

Yazbek’s score is pleasant, but never tips the scales into exciting territory. “Madrid” is a middling opening number and the Act I closer “On the Verge” is the most melodically enticing of the show. Yazbek is smart to give Mitchell a showcase number like “Microphone,” but doesn’t come close to fully using LuPone’s talents, only coming halfway with Act II’s “Invisible.” With only a few humorous numbers, the score doesn’t add up to anything lasting.

Women on the Verge feels like an idea the creators had that if they got enough power players on one stage, the show would create itself. Yet even when Patti LuPone is one of those performers, it isn’t the case. Women on the Verge seems to be on the verge of a… what, too easy? I’ll leave the simplistic writing to Lane and Yazbek.

Play: C-

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown student rush policy:
On sale beginning two hours prior to the performance, students with ID can purchase one ticket per person for $21.50. The seats are partial view, and the box office means it. The seats are in the first few rows of the orchestra, but to the extreme right and left. Much of the scenery and action is hidden. The positive here is the price, and that (at least prior to the opening) the box office reports that rush lines have been very low.

Photo: Ethan Hill

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Linda
    Nov 5 2010

    Spot on review, Jesse!


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