Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

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Broadway musical history is replete with shows that proved unsuccessful on-stage, but, due to their outstanding scores, are fondly remembered on the basis of their original Broadway cast albums. The 2010 musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, based on writer/director Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 comic film about several desperate females in Madrid in the heady post-Franco era, seems poised to join the club on the basis of its cast album. As a stage production, the show had a number of problems that helped lead to its brief run, which ended well before the album was released. To begin with, the talented Sherie Rene Scott was essentially miscast in the central role of Pepa, an actress and singer whose lover, Iván, breaks up with her by answering machine message at the top of the show. And then there's the talented Patti LuPone, who got a big, showy "I am" number, "Invisible," so late in the proceedings that it stopped the show, but not in a good way. Problems like this are not apparent on disc. Scott may not read as Spanish in person, but on record she sounds fine singing songs like "Lie to Me," and "Invisible" is a good song well sung, even if it was extraneous in the second act. Songwriter David Yazbek, by now a veteran, having previously written The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, necessarily adopts Spanish styles -- tangos, mambos, etc. -- in his music. But what works for him is supporting the over-the-top emotionalism of the women on the verge. For instance, Candela (Laura Benanti), who stopped the show in a good way with her showcase song "Model Behavior" (another series of answering machine messages in which she confesses to Pepa that she suspects her new boyfriend is a terrorist), is just as effective here. And Brian Stokes Mitchell, as the oily Iván, remains charming and sleazy in "The Microphone." Names like Scott, LuPone, Benanti, and Mitchell suggest the Broadway firepower on display in this show, which was an embarrassment of riches in terms of casting, even if it ultimately didn't work in the theater. That it does work as a CD may suggest to later listeners that the musical was better than it was, and lead them to wonder how it could have failed.

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