Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown opened on Broadway last night … and ouch. It seems the more known entities a production has, the more willing the press is to slaughter it in reviews. Like The Addams Family, which was similarly panned after opening, critics found the material simply didn’t live up to its potential and universally bemoaned that a cast and creative team so good could have failed so entirely. Scott gets lost in the lead role, LuPone has poor material to work with, Mitchell gets the worst songs … only Laura Benanti seems to have been worthy of anyone’s praise – finding oodles of comedy in the role Pepa. Jeffrey Lane seemed fearful to change anything from the screenplay and the result is a weak copy with “latin Muzak” songs plugged in, accompanied by ADHD-inducing stage effects and projections. But as Promises, Promises and The Addams Family have proved, bad reviews don’t necessarily mean bad box office results…and with names like these, the show just might survive beyond such a massive press slaughter.
Here are the critical reviews:
The New York Times
Yes, attention-deficit disorder, the plague of American schoolchildren, has now claimed one of Broadway’s own. Packed with talent and creativity, and a cast and crew bristling with Tony Awards, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” is nonetheless a sad casualty of its own wandering mind. Directed by Bartlett Sher (who did so beautifully by “South Pacific”), with a book by Jeffrey Lane and songs by David Yazbek, this tale of mad love in swinging 1980s Madrid feels hopelessly distracted from beginning to end. It keeps changing directions the way a teenage girl changes clothes before a first date. Read the full review
New York Post
Admittedly, the film hasn’t aged well, and Lane should have followed its stylish, oddball spirit rather than its letter. As it is, the biggest change is Ivan’s increased presence, which is a terrible decision. This thing is called “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” for good reason. Luckily, the show also has serious assets. Chief among them is Benanti, who brings the slightly dim, skimpily dressed Candela to outrageous, hilarious life. Benanti milks the lamest lines to the max, whips up laughs out of thin air and slays with a song, “Model Behavior,” that consists of a series of frantic phone messages delivered at lightning speed. Read the full review
It took me a while to understand my disappointment in Lincoln Center Theater’s musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” now at the spectacularly restored Belasco Theatre. There had been much to enjoy: Jeffrey Lane’s frequently funny book, David Yazbek’s perfectly professional Latin-infused songs, a stellar cast at the top of its game, and Bartlett Sher’s fluid staging that combines with a highly imaginative physical production to capture Almodóvar’s idiosyncratic visual style and editing rhythms. Yet the show hadn’t jelled. Eventually, a light dawned. “Women” is what composer Mary Rodgers calls a “Why?” musical. It has no compelling reason to sing; it’s just the original property with songs dropped in. Read the full review
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. That’s not to say there aren’t some pretty songs by David Yazbek (“The Full Monty,” ”Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”), among them Scott’s salty-sweet “Lovesick,” LuPone’s mournful ode “Invisible” and Mitchell’s velvety-smooth “Microphone.” Read the full review
As the show’s central neurotic, Sherie Rene Scott inspires neither laughter nor empathy. Scott plays Ivan’s mistress, Pepa, whose search for him after he ends their affair propels the plot; her dry manner only emphasizes the hollowness of the character as defined here. No one is helped by Yazbek’s songs, which sound like Latin-flavored Muzak. LuPone’s Invisible follows a monologue that becomes, in her hands, the show’s dramatic high point. You half-expect her to launch into one of her showstopping arias, but all she gets is a loungey trifle. Read the full review
The recipe for gazpacho is scrawled large across the curtain at Lincoln Center Theater’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Like the dish in question, the new Almodovarsical is refreshing, peppery and palate-cleansing, but it is still, in the end, cold tomato soup — invigorating and highly spiced, but not satisfying enough for a full meal or a full evening’s entertainment. Tuner is blessed with some delicious performances and any number of items of interest, but the result can be summed up as women (and men) on the verge of a coherent musical. Read the full review
The only performer allowed to have legitimate fun, and thus the only one who’s any fun to watch, is Laura Benanti… Whether trying to get Pepa on the phone (in an epic, pointless number called “Model Behavior”), vamping a couple of prying detectives, or even just absorbing the effects of that drugged soup, Benanti alone balances the joy of living with the aggravations of daily life. In doing so, she embodies Almodóvar far better than anyone else involved. The delight Benanti takes in being oblivious to the crumbling world around her is precisely the quality every character needs to have, but that Lane and Yazbek’s writing essentially prevent. In the goopy gazpacho of this musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Benanti is both the sugar and the spice. Read the full review
In the rapid-fire patter of the song “Model Behavior,” Benanti scampers across the stage like a scandalized squirrel, dashing from phone to phone and contemplating the magnitude of her carnal folly. It’s the one interlude in which the musical, featuring such other solid Broadway citizens as Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Sherie Rene Scott, fully lives up to its namesake, the breakout 1988 film extolling womanhood in extremis that put Almodóvar’s cinematic flair on display. Much of the rest of the time, the show — directed by Broadway whiz Bartlett Sher (“South Pacific”) — resorts to flashy projections and blatantly stagy gimmicks to shore up the weaknesses in character development and musical numbers. Read the full review
Wall Street Journal
To turn so fully realized a work of cinematic art into an equally successful musical demands that it be subjected to a complete and thoroughgoing imaginative transformation. Otherwise, the new version will seem superfluous—which is what’s wrong with the stage version of “Women on the Verge.” Instead of breaking new creative ground, Mr. Lane’s book tracks Mr. Almodóvar’s setting and plot slavishly, salting his script with unfunny one- and two-liners that serve only to dilute the crisp, elliptical dialogue of the screenplay. As for Mr. Yazbek’s songs, they’re as forgettable as Muzak in a noisy restaurant, with dull music and even duller lyrics (“Tell me when did the wires get crossed / Tell me where the connection was lost”). Read the full review
Did you see the show? What did you think?