'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown' needs showstoppers

women-on-the-verge-stage-1.jpgThe only truly amazing aspect to "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" is what it's missing, a showstopper.

Consider this: two of Broadway's reigning superstars -- Patti LuPone and Brian Stokes Mitchell -- co-star and neither has a number that is memorable.

To understand what absolute squandering of talent this is, their careers need to be remembered. When LuPone shot to fame in "The Robber Bridegroom," then "Evita," 35 years ago, she had audiences on their feet nightly. A couple of seasons back, as Mama in "Gypsy," people were screaming themselves hoarse, shouting her praise. LuPone is that magnificent.

As is Stokes. He has a rich, powerful voice, the sort that washes over the audience and makes them realize they are in the presence of greatness.

Except in this show, running through Jan. 23.

Based on Pedro Almodovar's movie, the musical has a fabulous set. It feels as if far more attention were paid to the set design and the costumes than the lyrics, which is a shame.

Besides Broadway royalty, the musical also has Laura Benanti, who won a Tony as Gypsy Rose Lee, and Justin Guarini of "American Idol," doing a good job in his Broadway debut.

women-on-the-verge-stage-2.jpgThe story follows three women -- Pepa ( Sherie Rene Scott), Candela (Benanti) and Lucia (LuPone) -- all on the verge of emotional breakdowns for pretty good reasons. Pepa, a voice-over actress, is in love with a married man, who dumps her by leaving a phone message (the 1980s version of breakup by text).

Unfortunately, the man Pepa's hopelessly in love with is Lucia's husband. Lucia is bona fide just-out-of-the-asylum crazy, but in an amusing and passionate way.

And both of them are paragons of stability compared to Pepa's friend, Candela, a model. She meets a guy, falls instantly in love, but when he gets dressed in the morning, he straps on his bandolier and bombs. Candela has fallen in love with a terrorist who is a known enemy of the country.

The country is Spain. Set in Madrid, which Almodovar describes as one big party in 1987, when he wrote the script.

If only the party could continue in the theater. The sad thing is the cast is wonderful, particularly Benanti, who steals the show, not easily done when LuPone's on stage. Benanti, usually in some form of undress, plays dumb brilliantly.

Benanti belts out her numbers, as do the others; there just isn't much to belt. Mitchell plays a cad, trying to ignore his crazy wife and dump his pregnant girlfriend. If that weren't dishonorable enough, he takes up with his wife's divorce lawyer.

His best song has the refrain of "blah blah" as he sings, "words are not important." But the tragedy in this would-be comedy is that words are very important, and when they're not treated as such, musicals fail.
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