BWW Review: MTG Goes ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
The famed Musical Theatre Guild performed a staged reading on November 12 at the Alex Theatre in Glendale of the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Based on the 1988 film of the same name by Pedro Almodovar, the book for the musical is by Jeffrey Lane and the music by David Yazbek. When the show played in New York about 5 years ago, it was problematic. Mounted first at Lincoln Center it gradually moved to the Belasco and closed within a couple of months, due to critics and audience who claimed they found the plot difficult to follow.
Anyone who has ever seen a Pedro Almodovar film knows how soon one is captivated by his style of presenting an array of wildly theatrical characters and several storylines that mesh beautifully with each other within a superbly entertaining framework. I loved "Todo Sobre Mi Madre" and from all that I have heard, "Women..." achieved similar success. The stories are cinematic and are meant to have a flow next to impossible to accomplish on the stage. Take the taxi driver (Travis Leland), for example. He sort of serves onstage as the narrator of the piece as we see the women moving throughout the big cosmopolitan city of Madrid in 1987 in his cab, pursuing Ivan (Robert Yacko). You see in a word, the women's major issue, cause for depression and heartbreak - "Lovesick", is a man, Ivan. Ivan is a typical Latin lover, a free spirit, at least in partnering with women. He is married to Lucia (Eileen Barnett), but totally unfaithful to her, he lives with Pepa (Kim Huber) and woos others like attorney Paulina (Jill Marie Burke), who is trying to 'help' Lucia win a court case against Ivan. Crazy, right? Yes, indeed. And there's also Ivan's son Carlos (Rodrigo Varandas) who is about to marry Marisa (Tayler Mettra). Every other woman catches his eye as well. Like papa, like son. And then there's the wildest woman of all Candela (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) who has fallen for a terrorist and spills out her guts to friend Pepa on her voice mail "Model Behavior" in a nonstop patter that is simply hilarious but somewhat difficult to follow and digest. How could anyone expect happy endings, but there is one - several, in fact - as most everything is resolved in a bizarre, crazy over.the.top manner, whereby the ladies find a new kind of freedom and individuality, only possible in an Almodovar piece, where deadly serious issues turn instantaneously to farce.
I had trouble with the disjointedness of the book. For me, the taxi driver's bit gets lost, and after a while Pepa, Lucia, Candela and Marisa's stories, even though they do mix, are not as refreshing and exhilarating together as they are separately. There are only so many times you can rely on a frozen gazpacho drink, laced with valium, to save the day. It's very funny, but becomes overused. Nevertheless, David Yazbek's score is bright and uplifting with plenty of Latin rhythms to keep you happy. And the farcical elements, at least on the surface, provide lots of laughs.
Under Richard Israel's skillful and meticulous direction, the entire cast were fantastic to watch. What they managed to carry off with under 25 hours of music rehearsal and perhaps one big run-through is amazing. Huber was the best. Her Pepa pulled you right in from the top and you rooted for her to come up a winner. She's a real triple threat. Barnett, as always, was wondrous. Such a fine actress and singer, her versatility served her well. Robert Yacko loosened up as Ivan. He really moved and grooved to the beat. Lanzarone was delightful as Candela, a complex role to play but so much fun to take in. She was deliriously funny. Praise as well to the other members of the cast...and to excellent musical director Corey Hirsch and choreographer Leslie Stevens for her rythmic moves in the group numbers.
Overall, an enjoyable evening of theatre! Musical Theatre Guild deserves so much adulation for their tireless efforts in mounting what turns out to be more than a successful dress rehearsal of a show. It's too bad, it cannot go further. Up next, on February 11 at the Alex in Glendale, Cole Porter's elegant High Society, in this year's tribute to musicals inspired by the movies.
(photo credit: Alan Weston)