A little more than a month ago, the news dropped that Adam Adolfo was leaving his job as artistic director of Artes de la Rosa after seven years. It was saddening to hear, especially for those of us who remember the troupe before he came to Fort Worth and know how far he has taken this theater company, making Fort Worth’s North Side a destination for theatergoers. The company’s current show, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, represents the last one of his tenure, and his imminent departure makes this frothy musical a bittersweet viewing experience indeed.
The play is based on Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 film and keeps the setting in Madrid during the late 1980s, as actress-of-a-certain-age Pepa Marcos (Alden Bowers Price) receives a phone message from her boyfriend Ivan (James Worley) informing her that he’s leaving her, indulging in much flowery sentiment about how much she meant to him without actually telling her why he’s going. Pepa spends the next 36 hours or so frantically trying to track down Ivan and get an explanation out of him, but she keeps getting entangled with the personal dramas of friends, neighbors, an international terrorist, and — scariest of all — Ivan’s gun-toting ex-wife Lucía (Kristin Spires), who just got released from a mental institution after 19 years and believes he’s still rightfully her husband.
The biggest problem with the show is the show. Composer-lyricist David Yazbek and book writer Jeffrey Lane previously had great success adapting another 1980s comedy movie into a stage musical with their version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but they’re off their game here. Their Spanish-flavored songs are generally lacking in invention and spark, and the problem is particularly acute when it comes to the numbers given to Pepa. The manic urgency and fits of temper that the character showed in the film is replaced here by a sentimental wistfulness that renders Pepa much less interesting. Meanwhile, the better numbers given to the supporting characters have the unfortunate effect of setting up the lead actress to fail. Bowers Price brings a wryness to the performance that’s charming in itself but only serves to further relegate the main character to the background.
Still, Adolfo works some magic with this flimsy material. The set is rather drab, a simple dark backdrop with spangles that could be taken to be nighttime stars. The riotous look of Almodóvar’s film comes through in the explosively colorful costumes designed by Adolfo himself, with unique costumes on all the background dancers in opening number “Madrid” giving way to the all-white look of Pepa’s number, “Island,” and then to the red-and-black outfits in the finale, “The View From Here.” He makes good use of the theater’s space, with actors entering from the back of the house as well as the wings and soloists performing on the floor in front of the stage while chorus members dance on the stage above. The discrete, stop-and-start nature of the songs prevents the musical from building up the same breakneck pace as the movie, but Adolfo still gets us from songs to dramatic action and back with enviable dexterity.
He’s got enough difference-makers in the supporting cast, too. The unnamed taxi driver from the film gets upgraded from a funny recurring character to a Greek chorus commenting on love and his beloved hometown, and Jason Solís renders him with great vigor. He pairs up well on the ballad “It’s You” with Spires, who doubles as the show’s musical director. Her smooth, rum-like mezzo might not seem to fit the character of a gun-toting maniac, but she uses it to make Lucía into a more modulated and sympathetic figure than she was in the movie. As a drama-addicted fashion model who’s Pepa’s best friend, Emma Leigh Montes gets only one number to herself, but it’s the showstopping “Model Behavior,” a frenetic patter song that Montes carries off with such skill and aplomb that you wish the show had more of her –– and that Pepa’s Valium-laced gazpacho didn’t render her and several other characters unconscious for the last bit of the show.
We can hope that Adam Adolfo returns when Artes de la Rosa inevitably puts on Hamilton, but for this final weekend, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown serves as a reminder of the great talent that has graced Fort Worth these past few years. His legacy is something for our theater scene to live up to and build on.
[box_info]Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Thru Sun. Rose Marine Theater, 1440 N Main St, FW. $12-16. 817-624-8333.[/box_info]