Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Wow!  And this was only the 13th preview performance.  That says a great deal all by itself.  What a huge risk this could be.  A new, technically and theatrically complex musical opening cold in New York - no out-of-town tryout.  Talk about a risky proposition for the producers and investors and not to mention the stars themselves - and there are a lot of them packed onto the stage at the Belasco Theatre.  Rest assured, my loyal readers, this one is going to be a great big Broadway hit!

Where to start?!  First of all, this show is based on Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 film by the same name.  By way of background, you have to know that the style is supposed to be a little cheesy.  It's a story presented in the telenovela style - colorful, over-acted, and generally bold.  Stop right there.  Translating that to the Broadway stage is a feat all in itself.  Mr. Sher (director), Mr. Gattelli (choreographer), and the entire production staff have taken on the challenge and presented those three characteristics back to us in virtually every aspect of the production - the lighting, the scenery, the video, the sets and the costumes.  That in itself is worthless with the wrong actors.  Inside those costumes, under those lights, and on the stage is a an eclectic collection of the most talented actors you might find assembled in one place today.  Patti Lupone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti, Danny Burstein, de'Adre AzizaJustin Guarini, and Mary Beth Peil headline the massive undertaking and seem to defy the notion that there can only be one star in a show.  Each of them holds their own but together they are a powerhouse ensemble.  

Other than what was written into the script, I never felt any dueling divas on stage.  Each of them has their "moments" in the spotlight.  All of them complement each other.  Ms. Lupone has her bare stage moment in the spotlight along with a show's worth of light hearted Spanish diva moments.  Justin Guarini, in his Broadway debut,  proves he's got acting chops while getting the opportunity to showcase his amazing tenor voice.  Brian Stokes Mitchell fills the theatre with his perfectly pitched, powerfully melodic baritone vocals.  Laura Benanti might possibly be the next show stealing comedic actress of the season (ala Katie Finneran in Promises, Promises last season).  Sherie Rene Scott takes the lead as a  Brunette (most recently we saw her natural blond side in Everyday Rapture) and doesn't fail to entertain the entire show.  The entire cast works well together - constantly in motion, constantly in chaos and constantly on queue and pitch perfect.  

On a related note, I must also note that this is the first production to be staged at the Belasco Theatre after its extensive and first class renovation.  The wood paneled, marble clad and Tiffany stained glass filled theatre has been restored to its full glory and what a marvelous show to use as the vehicle to reveal the fine artistry conceived for theater impresario David Belasco in 1907. Technically speaking, I've never seen a more modern stage.  Digital lighting, video projection systems, hydraulics, extensive scenery fly-in capacity and a sound system to rival all others are among the many improvements that are clearly taken advantage of in this production.   

Does the show need some work?  Of course - no show is perfect out of the gate.  Nips and tucks needed here, choreography cleaned up there.  But at the 13th preview, this show and all its moving parts is far ahead of where most would be at this point.  Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is cleared for takeoff and we get to enjoy the in-flight entertainment.