I was privileged, yes privileged, to see the second preview of the show. It was the thrill of this theatre fan's life to see some of the most revered talents on Broadway "in process." Sure the show wasn't ready. As I said way back when I saw it, it needed a fast opening number, it needed clarity, and it needed a consistently zany pace. One of the biggest problems with it is that it relied too heavily on the audience understand European sensibility and the Latin style of telenovelas. The closest thing we have here is soap operas which wouldn't know fast pacing if their lives depended on it. And in those first previews, the translation of film style staging - vignettes sliding by, projections of colors moving every which way during scene changes, and even creating close ups and montages - was creaky at best. But, and here is where I diverge from the common consensus of the audiences and critics, I could still see through all the clutter what was going to be. And what it was going to be was something smart, sexy and as non-Broadway a sensibility as one can get.
I had tickets to revisit the show just before its scheduled limited engagement was over. Unfortunately, the show closed early, and I never got to see what I was sure was a terrific musical when all was said and done. Yet another show, that pushes boundaries and asks its audience to participate by thinking and feeling outside the box, failed despite the constant outcry from theatregoers for just that sort of thing. And so you can see why it ended up being a disappointment.
But the great news is that Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the Broadway musical version, will live on forever thanks to Ghostlight Records, which went ahead with a cast recording despite the show's untimely demise.
Title: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: Ghostlight Records
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color production photos; complete lyrics; essays by Pedro Almodovar and Frank Rich
As I did not formally review the show, I will offer my comments in a slightly different format than usual. I caveat everything I say below with this understanding: I did not see the final product, but based on the differences between what I saw and what is preserved on this recording tells me that nearly everything I had hoped they would do, they did.
This one is of high quality, with a full color rendition of the show's manic logo, and full color throughout. Included is a sweet essay from Pedro Almodovar, upon whose film the show was based. As you might expect he offers nothing but praise for the creative team and cast. More surprising, and more appreciated by this listener at least, is a very telling essay by Frank Rich, former New York Times reviewer who could cut your career to shreds with some scathing reviews. The difference between him and his predecessors is that his criticism was agenda-free and applied equally no matter if you were a new Broadway talent or a 10 time Tony winner. And generally, after the hurt and anger subsided, you could at least understand his point of view, even if you couldn't fully agree with it. Pithy, bitchy sound bites were not his thing. And the essay he includes here is very telling of the final product. While it is clear that he found the show to be imperfect, he finds much of it ahead of its time, and goes so far as to say that Women on the Verge will join the ranks of many a show that critics and audiences failed to embrace at first, but have/will become beloved.
I also love that the booklet contains great color production photos as well as the super snazzy cast photo that was outside the Belasco Theatre. And I love the complete synopsis as well as lyrics (including some stage directions), which really help to illuminate the complete work.
The Quality of Sound:
A big fan of both of David Yazbek's previous Broadway scores, The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it is wonderful that this gem has been recorded. All three scores are from projects where films have been turned into musicals, and like the first two, Yazbek has captured not only a Broadway sensibility in his music and lyrics, but the rhythms and sentiments of the particular piece. Time and again, he has brought to vivid life the vibrancy and urgency of Latin music and culture.
Simon Hale's (along with additional work from Jim Abbott and David Yazbek) orchestrations are lush and full. The background under the main tune is consistently rich with complicated patterns of percussion and individual instrumentation that mirror the craziness of what is going on, whether it is zany physical action or the crazed musings of women ready to kill for their lovers, kill their lovers or even themselves, so desperate a frenzy these ladies are in. Jim Abbott's musical direction allows that same depth in the vocals as well. How wonderful, for example, to hear Patti LuPone work her same magic in solo numbers AND as a part of the ensemble!
The Quality of Performance:
As one might expect from a group of actors with the level of pedigree that that this company has, the performance quality on this recording is extraordinary, from the supporting vocals of the ensemble to the leads and the supporting cast. No one is a star here, and yet everyone is giving a star turn on this album.
The ending number, "Shoes from Heaven," as well as the bonus track, the original opening number (which did not work dramatically) "My Crazy Heart," are beautiful, complex numbers which give the show emotional depth and some gorgeous vocals to boot.
Yes, not seeing the final production will always nag at me. But I am so grateful that I got to see it at all. Women on the Verge, I hope, is really on the verge of big things!
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