It sounded like a great idea. Take a beloved film, add some hotshot creatives, and throw in one of the most stellar casts to hit Broadway in years. But what could have been a scintillating delight of a musical is instead an abysmal mess, every bit as soporific as the famed Valium-laced gazpacho at the center of its frenzied plot.
Again, it really should have worked. Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 film has become a cult classic. David Yazbek supplied the wonderfully tuneful and witty scores to both The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Jeffrey Lane's book for the latter show is funny and fresh. And Tony-winner Bartlett Sher could seemingly do no wrong after his twin triumphs directing The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific.
And then there's that cast: triple divas Sherie Rene Scott, Patti LuPone, and Laura Benanti, matched with the vocal and comedic prowess of Brian Stokes Mitchell and Danny Burstein. On paper, this show was a blockbuster in the making.
So, what happened? I blame Bart Sher. I personally felt that his award-winning work on South Pacific was overrated, but at least that production had some sense of cohesion and focus. Not Women on the Verge, at least not when I saw the show a few weeks back. Sher seemed to be at a total loss with this material, demonstrating no flare for comedy whatsoever, not that the lame, lifeless material was doing him any favors. It really makes me wonder: Who green-lighted this mess? The show had numerous high-profile industry-only workshops under the auspices of the august Lincoln Center Theater. How was it that someone saw this show in raw form and thought it looked produceable?
As I tracked the show through its preview period, it seemed clear the members of the creative team were at a total loss. All we kept hearing about, at least at first, were the technical difficulties they were having with the set. Well, the set (designed by Michael Yeargan) is one of the most pointlessly complicated atrocities I've ever encountered, an eye-numbing barrage of moving panels, digital projections (by Sven Ortel), and a dangerous-looking glass monolith of a skylight that stagehands had to come onstage to nudge into place at the performance I saw.
To cover the Rube Goldberg-ian set changes, the show features an off-putting number of complicated crossovers between scenes, with supposedly comic business that never received a single laugh, at least not from me. So, it appears that the production staff were so concerned about working out the mechanics that they seemed to lose track of the fact that the show itself wasn't working. (Hear that, Julie Taymor?)
Later in previews, the staff seemed to realize that the show needed more help than the set, but at that point it was probably too late. The show I saw was, in my estimation, unfixable, with no redeeming qualities except for the game and professional cast. The changes that did occur have apparently amounted to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. For example, when I saw the show, the number "Madrid" opened the second act, but now it's become the opening number. Well, "Madrid" is a dull, generic song that's meant to establish time and place, but bears little specific relation to the rest of the show. When I heard they were making this the opening number, I knew they really didn't have a clue as to how to fix the show.
So, what could have been the musical event of the season has instead revealed itself as an awkward lumbering bore.