Fort Worth — Artistic director Adam Adolfo, departing Artes de la Rosa for new adventures, leaves the company on a high note with a frantic and fun regional premiere of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: The Musical. This film-to-stage reinvention, which premiered at Lincoln Center in 2010, is based closely on Pedro Almodóvar’s sexy, farcical 1988 movie of the same name—which, by the way, gave a barely grown Antonio Banderas one of his first breakout roles.
True to ADLR’s roots and mission, the show swings its hips to a Latin beat, with some nicely done mambos and sambas from David Yazbek and a book by Jeffrey Lane. But the storyline is pure Sex and the Ciudad: set in the “hurricane” social whirl of 1980s Madrid, it tracks the hyper-dramatic love lives of three women—actress Pepa (Alden Bowers Price), model Candela (Emma Leigh Montes), and delusional ex-wife Lucia (Kristin Spires).
Pepa’s lover Ivan (James Worley), a fellow movie voice “dubber,” has suddenly left her—and she’s desperate to find him. Ditto Ivan’s unhinged ex Lucia, recently released from a mental institution after many years. She’s carrying a grudge and a gun—and Pepa’s motor-mouthed friend Candela could use one too: she’s accidentally harboring a terrorist (in her bed).
All each of them needs is their face on the side of a bus (á la Carrie Bradshaw)—but a taxi will have to do, driven by the all-seeing Driver (Jason Solis), who feeds off the “Technicolor widescreen cinerama” of his passengers’ doings: “Life is a movie,” he sings in “Madrid (is My Mama)”—“and God I’m glad I’m in it!” (Nathan Scott’s salsa-infused choreography works well in this and other ensemble numbers.)
Solis’ big, sweet-tart tenor is one of the evening’s bright spots, as is the terrific work of conductor Richard Gwozdz and the five other musicians of the small orchestra. Yazbek’s score is full of complex, ear-tickling rhythms, and watching the orchestra handle them in fine style—down to a flamenco-style hand jive—is pure pleasure.
The night’s other standout is Montes’ performance as Candela. In her fast-patter song “Model Behavior” she takes this show in her teeth and runs away with it—her body vibrating with so much energy she seems about to come off the stage. Montes is a true comedienne, finding every laugh in her character’s wide-eyed, flat-out approach to life—and she can sing up a storm, too.
It’s clear from the get-go that this is a woman-centric story—with the gents figuring simply as the ladies’ objects of desire. Worley’s Ivan isn’t a real man: he passes through scenes like a ghost or dream figure (“Ivan in the Shadows”), singing a cryptic line here and there. We—and eventually Pepa—can see through this love-‘em-and-leave-em player in more ways than one. Ivan and Lucia’s grown son Carlos (a strong-voiced Jordan Justice) is real enough, but so clearly dominated by Mom and uninterested in his boring fiancée Marissa (Elizabeth Thresher, comically dreaming herself into a better love life) that he seems half-ghost as well. Even Lucia’s Ivan is a dream—of the life and love she lost.
Pepa seems a bit too much the pouty victim at first, but we’re pulled in by her self-amused honesty in “Love Sick”—a pulsing song that scratches the itch of her man problem. Price has a light, vibrant voice and ultimately has us rooting for the lovelorn but resilient Pepa (“The View from Here”).
Spires’ Lucia is a broadly drawn figure of fun, the abandoned “ball and chain”—but she manages to touch us, too, in her second-act solo “Invisible,” a bravura hymn of hurt not just to Ivan, but to all the men who once wooed the girl—and can’t see the mature woman at all. As the production’s musical director, Spires’ experience as a singer and voice teacher informs the fine work of the ensemble—particularly in women’s laments such as “Love Sick” and “On the Verge,” and in the male ensemble’s rendition of the melodic “My Crazy Heart”—which should be retitled “The Guys Can’t Help It.”
Bradley Gray’s no-scenery scenic design relies on deep colors, starry backdrops, and Kyle Harris’ glitzy city-nights lighting, and Adam Adolfo’s costumes give us a hint of the glam, big-haired ‘80s (Rachel Blizzard’s fierce lawyer Paulina has the best ‘do) without making us wince. Take my shoulder pads—please!
Women on the Verge is a story told in bits and pieces; the quick-cut frenzy of scene changes and plot lines adds to the energy, but can be confusing. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it might be wise to Google a plot synopsis beforehand.
This feels like the right tale for a hot summer’s night—and makes a lively send-off for director Adolfo, ending his seven-year run with Artes de la Rosa. Good show, Mr. A…and good luck!