Theatre Review: ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ at The Center For the Arts

I’m not going to lie, I was surprised to hear that anyone locally was producing “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” David Yazbeck’s busy, flavorful musical based on the 1988 film of the same name by Pedro Almodovar. Despite three Tony Award nominations and raves from Patrick Hinds, host of the Theater People podcast (one of my most trusted sources of Broadway history) it did not pan out with critics and played roughly 90 days on Broadway.

. . . a dynamite cast with unbelievable vocals and spot-on comedic chops.

Based on this reputation, I was interested to see what UB Theatre and Dance would be able to do with a Spanish score and vivacious characters despite a confusing storyline. Honestly? It was much better than I expected.

“Women on the Verge” covers a 48-hour period in 1980s Madrid where a group of women simultaneously experience tumultuous disruptions to their love lives. There’s Pepa, who’s longing to track down her suddenly distant lover, Ivan; Lucia, Ivan’s wife; Candela, Pepa’s best friend and a ditzy supermodel; and that’s just the beginning.

Selina Iozzo dazzles as Pepa, with a sultry voice and believable balance of being a grounded, determined woman and a hopelessly anxious mess.

Lucia, Ivan’s wife, is played by a powerful Hannah Keller. Keller had large shoes to fill knowing that the other professional incarnation of her character was played by Patti LuPone, and she killed it. Lucia’s mental stability just doesn’t exist but man, Keller knows how to play to the back of the house between hilarious facial expressions and body language and a powerful belt.

Camille Capello tackles arguably one of the show’s most difficult songs, “Model Behavior” as Candela. The tongue-twisting lyrics are no cakewalk but Capello nailed it. Despite her character’s lack of intelligence, she’s endearing and genuine, shining especially in some tender-hearted moments with William Hin, who hilariously portrays Lucia and Ivan’s son, Carlos.

In addition to Rory Tamimie’s velvety pipes as Ivan and Holden Bath and Matthew Rittler’s memorable detective duo, ensemblist Taylor Burrows has a hilarious scene as Ivan’s concierge, who made me laugh so hard in her 2 minute scene that I thought about it long after the curtain call.

The choreography and music is great, but the show’s faults lie in the pacing and flow of the story. Just when the show seems to want to follow a new character and plot point, it shifts gears completely to focus on a new character and plot point. By the end of Act I, you’re thankful all the characters end up in the same room just because it’s much less confusing.

Katherine Metzler’s set design was heavily influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso. Mixed with vibrant costumes by Mary Alice Groat, it proved to be too much in certain scenes while dazzling in others.

However, the show’s flaws are easy to forget thanks to a dynamite cast with unbelievable vocals and spot-on comedic chops. The actors’ performances are packed with passion and hilarity, making a nearly three hour show feel rather fun and enjoyable to experience.

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” runs through May 6 at UB’s Center for the Arts. For more information, click here.


Theatre Review: ‘Men on Boats’ by UB Theatre and Dance at The Center For The Arts

Modern takes on historical events are one of my favorite approaches to storytelling. Writing about an exploration that took place in 1869 for a 21st century audience can be tricky, I was expecting something corny like the classroom plays my American history class used to present back in middle school. I should have known better, the department of theatre and dance at University of Buffalo always exceeds my expectations.

. . .exciting and comical. . .

“Men on Boats” chronicles the expeditions of John Wesley Powell and his group of selected men investigating and documenting the Green River and the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Reading the program, the casting for this seemingly predictable show has already flipped the narrative on its head by replacing the men with an entire female cast. Each woman portrays their male figures, but it adds hilarity and quirkiness when the actors low voices suddenly raise in high pitch screaming, shouting, or brief singing.

Jaclyn Blackhaus’ script stays true to the adventure Powell and his crew embarked on, including the men who left the party, the hidden barrel of whiskey upon the wrecked No Name, to the tiny details such as the often forgotten moment of when Powell was near death, dangling from a rock ledge, saved by Andy Hall taking off his pants and using them to pull Powell to safety. Though the historical accuracy is impressive, it’s the satirical and tongue-in-cheek moments that make this story stand out and stay with you long after the show is over.

The entire cast was phenomenal, each woman embracing her character and making them unique and memorable. By the time the play is over, it’s hard to not empathize with these men, and the struggles they went through (no matter how parodied the situations were at times). Julia Krieter commands the stage as Powell, speaking the loudest among the men, strutting with an exaggerated confidence, but still caring for each member of the exploration crew, especially as their numbers dwindle. Perhaps my favorite though was Michaela Pace playing Old Shady (Powell’s brother). The quietest member of the group, Shady would often break a silence with odd humming, confuse everyone with sudden singing, or spook the group with a harmless trick, all while completely deadpan and unconcerned.

Director Eero Laine presents “Men on Boats” as an exciting and comical rehash that also provides commentary on how history is retold and interpreted. Even if you are unfamiliar with Powell’s geographic exploration, I highly recommend this show for the talent and creativity the cast and crew exudes.

Running time: 1 hour with no intermission.

“Men on Boats” runs until Sunday October 29, 2017 and is presented at The Center For The Arts at the University at Buffalo. For tickets and more information, click here.