THERE MAY BE INADVERTENT PLOT SPOILERS BELOW. IT IN NOT MY INTENTION TO HAVE INCLUDED THEM.
Is the show ready to go before critics? No. Did I purchase a ticket to see it this early in the run (it still would have been amongst the first dozen previews had it started as advertised) and expect it to be ready? No. Is it the disaster that the chat boards are calling it? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
So, why go? Well, this is, indeed, a very rare opportunity for someone who loves musical theatre as much as I do. A work in progress by some of the most creative and talented people on both sides of the footlights doesn't happen all that much anymore, now that off-Broadway or far away West Coast cities are tryout towns. And as someone who appreciates and loves the process as much as the product, it was indeed a thrill to spend 2 and half hours at the Belasco the other day. I guess the first thing I should address is the ticket price issue... the previews are discounted, slightly, but even if they weren't, I more than got my money's worth. I don't think I have ever seen a more unified effort in my life. For safety's sake the side curtains which normally raise an lower so the audience can't see the backstage area were all the way up and I could see everything... costume changes, rearranging set pieces, and even an actor or two taking a quick note and being told where to stand. What a treat. And, though the show did stop briefly to allow the safe lowering of a huge set of plate glass windows, there was never a second of it where people fumbled lines or lyrics and the dancing was sharp and error free. No one was on book, no one called for a cue (unlike A Little Night Music). It was a real theater lover's dream, if you ask me.
Now, about the show: (* - Suggestion/thought; + - Positive; - - Negative)
* - It would be very beneficial to include something in the program about the style of "telenovelas" and the films of Almodovar. They (and the show) have a very European sensibility. If you have ever watched Ugly Betty, it is an Americanized version of this style, and on that show, they frequently watch telenovelas, which are pretty close to what this show is stylistically. Mind you, I have never seen the film, but I could tell almost immediately that this was the style. Visually striking - bright, passionate colors and disquieting almost out of place images seeming to come out of nowhere. Emotionally striking - deeply poignant moments to the point of melodrama immediately followed by moments of high comedy, almost slapstick in nature, and certainly way over the top. Knowing that, I found almost the whole thing to make sense and be extremely funny (everyone around me was laughing hysterically throughout, too.)
+ - The overture and opening image is extreme. It literally made my mouth drop open.
- - The opening image is confusing, as a red swirl that looks like it could be tomato juice spilled on a recipe card begins to swirl and looks like blood. Therefore, I thought the opening image was of a woman face down on a lover's bed, dead as a doornail. Not the case.
+ - Sherie Rene Scott handles all of her material well. Much of it is very serious in tone, and so she comes across about one dimensional until well into the first act. That needs to be changed.
* - The first act really needs an "opening number" to set the tone and introduce the characters. Oddly, there is just such a song to start act two.
+ - The minute Patti LuPone started to sing, I relaxed. God, is she good. And funny! And so good at serious...
+ - The minute Laura Benanti takes the stage, the show takes off and never lets down.
* - Either bring Laura in earlier, or let the Taxi Driver (Danny Burstein) be funny in both acts and be the narrator in both acts.
+ - The women singing together to comment on the action is a device used well;
* - But they need to be used a little more to solidify their point of being. And they offer a serious counterpoint to the Taxi Driver's narration in act two.
+ - Brian Stokes Mitchell is in excellent voice;
* - And his act one solo "The Microphone" might work better if sung with or immediately following Sherie Rene Scott's "Lovesick." This could set up the entire thing much better than the way it is now.
+ - Justin Guarini is really very good in a role that could be actually boring instead of humorously boring.
+ - Nikka Graff Lanzarone is also good, for what she is used for, which is mostly a sight gag and perhaps a commentary on European styles.
+ - de'Adre Aziza is great, but...
* - PLEASE give her more to do!!
* - The difference between the blonde wigged Patti LuPone and the dark haired Patti LuPone, i.e. the two sides of Lucia might work better if it didn't take so long to figure out that they are two sides of the same character.
+ - Patti LuPone is clearly enjoying the hell out of the blonde haired Lucia. And she is clearly still working out the kinks in the dark haired Lucia, though her "Invisible" is a beautifully tragic song.
+ - I LOVED the visual metaphor at the end of act one and the start of act two. How fitting that "On the Verge" is the song....
* - Maybe "On the Verge" could open and close each act?
* - Let the ensemble dance more. Much more. Christopher Gatelli's choreography is sharp, witty and appropriately nervy.
- - The opening ten minutes are too confusing and don't match the rest of the show. They are necessary, and the image of the woman on the bed is stunning, but the whole thing needs clarification.
- - Perhaps the biggest minus of all: The sound system stinks. The balance between the terrific orchestra and the amazing singers is off several times making some of the lyrics incomprehensible, though it is no where near the catastrophe that the chat rooms have it being.
* - Lose all of the accents. We know we are in Spain, 1987. If we could figure out we were in France during all three hours of Les Miserables without French accents, I think we can handle it here. That way you spend no time thinking" He isn't using an accent! She sounds like the Taco Bell dog! Her accent is so thick I can't follow what she's saying!"
Some final comments:
- With expectations so high, I really appreciated Bartlett Sher addressing the audience pre-show, though he did not have to apologize for a thing.
- Contrary to what people have posted, Sherie Rene Scott's role may have the most stage time, but I would call this a definite ensemble piece, rather than a lead/supporting roles situation. The curtain call clearly stands as a record that the principal cast is to be considered as a whole. (Of course, they may not have choreographed a curtain call yet...) Though I'm sure come Tony committee time, she'll be considered a Lead Actress in a Musical.
- The set (Michael Yeargan) is just fine. It is busy, the projections (Sven Ortel) are colorful, and it moves like we are watching a fast-paced movie. Once they get everything set, and the grooves on the floor in sync with the set pieces the noise they make will stop. And the lighting (Brian MacDevitt) is flawless already. It will be even better when the actors have marks to hit that are finalized.
- The costumes (Catherine Zuber) are superb. Top notch, almost a character by themselves.
- The score, even as it is, is first rate. Evocative of Spain, musical theatre idioms and cinematic melodrama, David Yazbek has done some nice work. I can't wait to see what, if anything he adds, drops or changes.
- Jeffrey Lane's book might just be the key to the show's problems as they currently stand. Some clarification, some fleshing out of Sherie Rene Scott, Patti LuPone and Brian Stokes Mitchell's roles will go a long way to fixing the whole thing. A strong opening that prepares American audiences for the abrupt severity of this style of storytelling is a must.
- If anyone can guide this ship to a successful launch, it is Bartlett Sher.
And you know what, many, many of theatre's most beloved musicals had difficult births, while many of its biggest flops were smooth sailing. Either way this turns out, these Women are on the verge of something truly unique.
All of that said, I can't wait to see it again!
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