Monday, September 22, 2014

Admirable Performances Amidst Trying Times Can't Quite Lift 'Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
A Recent Musical
Book by Jeffrey Lane
Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek
Based on the film by Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by William Pullinsi
Thru October 12

If ever there was a local theatrical production I really wanted to love, or at least substantively like, it is Theatre at the Center's current staging of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the musical.

This isn't due to a deep affinity for the 1988 movie by Pedro Almodóvar, as I've never seen it (although I have seen and liked a number of other films by the famed Spanish director).

And although I have long enjoyed several productions at the venue in Munster, IN--including their recent world premiere of The Beverly Hillbillies musical--neither was I overly intrigued by the first Chicago area rendition of a show that flopped on Broadway despite a sensational cast that included Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti and other decorated performers.

I've liked both of composer/lyricist David Yazbek's previous high-profile screen-to-stage musical adaptations--The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels--but not enough for the expectation of an exceptional score to be a major lure.

And while I was delighted to be invited to Press Night--albeit on Sunday afternoon--and was glad to note the inclusion of several actors I've seen and enjoyed numerous times, this also does not quite explain why I hoped to convey that I found the show itself to be exemplary.

Because unarguably, the dedication, effort and perseverance of all involved is remarkable, in light of the car accident that took the life of cast member Bernie Yvon--long one of my favorite local performers--on his way to a rehearsal.

As attested to by beautiful stories shared at a post-show remembrance reception, Yvon was much loved and admired by the cast and throughout the Chicago theater community.

Based on the 10+ works I've seen him in, including the recent Beverly Hillbillies, I am fairly certain I would have acutely enjoyed seeing him in this show.

But on Saturday, September 6--the same day that news broke about the death of a local actress named Molly Glynn in a freak weather-related accident--Yvon died tragically just minutes from Theatre at the Center in Munster.

Bernie Yvon
With as much local theater as I go to, a feeling of fond familiarity exists for a number of oft-seen performers--despite never having met almost any of them--and Yvon's death hit me hard.

So I can't even imagine the profound sense of grief, sorrow, loss and longing among all who knew him, and especially his Women on the Verge castmates for whom the routine of rehearsing and presenting a new show was forever rendered relatively inconsequential.

And yet, as has conceivably been uttered for as long as the theater arts have existed, the show must go on.

George Andrew Wolff--who spoke eloquently at the reception afterward about his long friendship and frequent collaborations with Yvon--stepped the role of a Taxi Driver (who serves as a narrator) quite admirably, especially as this is far from a classic show that everyone knows.

A longtime favorite local actress of mine, Cory Goodrich, is excellent in the lead role of Pepa--the suddenly ex-mistress of Ivan, played by the perennially good Larry Adams.

The always resplendent Summer Naomi Smart certainly is here as Candela, a model who is Pepa's best friend, and another terrific Chicagoland star, Hollis Resnik, is fun as Ivan's ex-wife Lucia, who delivers one of the show's best musical numbers--"Invisible"--with plenty of panache.

Dina DiCostanzo, Collette Todd and Nathan Gardner are also worthy of mention among a talented, attractive and appealing cast.

I extend my highest regard and deepest sympathies to all of them, as well as director William Pullinsi and everyone involved in staging the show in such trying times.

Unfortunately, despite several excellently-sung renditions of tunes that suggest Yazbeck's deft professionalism but didn't quite dazzle on a first hearing, I didn't particularly like the show in full.

Songs like "Lie to Me" sung by Goodrich & Adams, "Time Stood Still" and "Invisible" delivered by Resnik and "Tangled" by Wolff and the ensemble were enjoyable enough in their own right, but the full score, characters and storyline just didn't engage or delight me as I would have hoped, and I found myself rather befuddled by the whole thing.

Especially as I haven't seen the source movie, I won't bother with a dissertation about how the Spanish black comedy translates to the musical stage (though this show does feel a bit akin to Nine, the musical adaptation of Fellini's 8-1/2). But whereas the film is highly regarded, my take on the musical seems it may be similar to the Broadway critiques that led to closure just 69 performances after the show's late-2010 New York opening.

Given the circumstances, it seems particularly unnecessary to further detail what I didn't love about Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. And not only wouldn't I dissuade anyone so inclined from seeing it, it might be well-worth the trek to Munster simply to admire and applaud the spirit of the performers.

For in looking back through my database for shows that I had seen Yvon in, I'm reminded that some were really good and others were rather mediocre.

But I can't recall Bernie ever being less than a joy to watch.

So in a weird way, perhaps this disappointing show is a more apt testament to him than a really superlative one would be.

For actors who truly love what they do--and the post-show recollections reiterated what I already knew--a so-so show, or even a devastating real-life tragedy, doesn't dictate that one takes the stage with any less pride and passion.

When the spotlight comes on, you give your best.

Despite anything beyond your control.

I genuinely thank the late Bernie Yvon for always doing just that--and the cast and crew of Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown for carrying on in that tradition.

On the best of nights for a theatergoer, exhilaration and admiration go hand-in-hand, but on others simply the latter is unequivocally deserving of heartfelt applause.

And appreciation that goes far beyond the performance at hand. 

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