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Archive for Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pedro Almodovar’s vision of ‘Women’ gets lost in Broadway musical

November 7, 2010

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— The gazpacho isn’t completely ready yet.

A musical based on Pedro Almodovar’s gorgeous film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” opened Thursday at the Belasco Theatre with all the elements to make that classic Spanish soup, but still in need of seasoning.

It’s not the thin gruel some had feared, but it’s also not a spicy knock out — at least not yet. Mostly, it’s just a bloated dish, with too much repetition and too much thrown up on stage, as if the chefs were trying to dazzle with as many ingredients as possible.

Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sherie Rene Scott star in this stuffed tale of obsessive love and female empowerment that hews closely to Almodovar’s 1988 movie both in narrative and bold, visual style.

All the movie’s characters and characteristics are here — even the iconic gazpacho, a recipe for which the audience finds projected onto a scrim as they settle into their seats. Among the list of ingredients — tomatoes, cucumber, vinegar and so on — comes this tidbit on their best assembly: “The secret is to mix well.” Indeed.

Things get off to a rough start with the first song, “Madrid,” which tries to set the scene of a vibrant, exciting capital city in 1987 as a whirlwind of activity but has lyrics as horrendous as, “Madrid is my mama/Give me the nipple/Everyday I’m gonna taste it.”

It gets better as the show continues, with the focus on Pepa (Scott), who has been dumped by her lover Ivan (Mitchell), a cad who is being stalked by his former wife Lucia (LuPone). Into the mix is Pepa’s ditzy friend Candela (Laura Benanti), who may or may not be having an affair with a terrorist; Lucia’s feminist lawyer (de’Adre Aziza); and Ivan’s son (Justin Guarini), who has a passionless relationship with his fiancee, Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone).

To evoke Almodovar’s manic, cool energy, director Bartlett Sher and members of the creative team — Christopher Gattelli’s crisp choreography, Michael Yeargan’s bold sets, Brian MacDevitt’s complicated lighting and Sven Ortel’s often surreal projections — have gone into overdrive.

Scrims and projections fly in and out like crazed, brightly colored swallows; a taxi and a motorcycle whiz across the stage on conveyor belts; furniture slides this way and that; video screens pop up; telephones are demolished; roller-skaters roll by; a bed is set on fire — real flames, no kidding — and by intermission, all four leading women are hanging in mid-air on straps like circus performers. While all this activity is supposed to match the wackiness of Madrid and the film’s plot, it gets quickly distracting.

Maybe something is lost in translation. Almodovar’s movie — a Spanish-language masterpiece that was in part a homage to the screwball American comedies of the 1930s and 1940s — has now been adapted for the American stage with non-Spanish actors using Spanish accents. That’s a lot of filtering — even with the filmmaker’s blessing and advice. It seems as though the cast is working from a faded copy of Almodovar’s singular vision, like a photocopy of a photocopy that has lost its crispness.

One standout performance is by Benanti, who plays a model with a bubble-headed zaniness that recalls Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde.”

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