It’s tempting to dismiss the new musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s seminal 1988 movie farce Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown as a hot mess. But in truth, this ill-conceived Broadway production is more of a lukewarm gazpacho — which is almost fitting since a version of the dish, seasoned with Valium, figures prominently in the plot.
The tunes, by The Full Monty composer David Yazbek, are a forgettable mix of Latin-lite pastiches with some of the most unfortunate lyrics (and awkward rhymes) to hit a Broadway stage in years. Take the opening number, sung by a Madrid taxi driver (Danny Burstein, mugging too broadly) who turns up sporadically as a kind of narrator: ”Madrid is my mama. / Give me the nipple, everyday I’m gonna taste it… Give me little titty ‘cause I’m hungry every minute.”
While Jeffrey Lane’s book sneaks in a handful of decent jokes, the story is mostly a muddled jumble of vignettes from the original film that will be bewildering to anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, or hasn’t seen it in a while. Characters are introduced on the fly, relationships are sketchily drawn, and some themes and motifs pop up only to disappear again. The Almodóvarian use of primary colors for the costumes and set design are the closest the show comes to authenticity.
We do meet the at-the-end-of-her-rope voiceover actress Pepa (Sherie Rene Scott), her best friend, Candela (Laura Benanti), Pepa’s married lover who’s just broken up with her, Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell), as well as Ivan’s son (American Idol alum Justin Guarini) and his long-estranged wife (Patti LuPone). But seldom has such a strong cast been used to such poor effect. LuPone gets two big numbers, both well sung but utterly undistinguished. The one standout is Benanti, who briefly sparks the show to life in the first act when her high-strung, somewhat slutty Candela leaves increasingly desperate voice messages for Pepa in a hilarious, show-stopping patter song. Not even an on-stage fire can liven up the proceedings. By the final curtain, you may wish that they had served some tranquilizer-laced gazpacho at intermission. D+
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)