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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar had his breakout moment in 1988 with the movie "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." It was raucous, candy-colored and packed with over-the-top performances.

Now, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" is one of the most highly anticipated Broadway musicals of the season.

As Jeff Lunden reports, the glittery adaptation features some of Broadway's biggest female stars.

JEFF LUNDEN: Two days before opening night, the creators of "Women on the Verge" met in a rehearsal room in the bowels of Lincoln Center to talk about their musical. Adapting an action-packed farce to the stage has been a huge challenge, and the past month of previews had been intense. The moving sets had ground to a halt at several performances, and they'd just put in a new opening number.

Songwriter David Yazbek confessed to feeling, if not on the verge of a nervous breakdown, then somewhere closer to nervous exhaustion.

Mr. DAVID YAZBEK (Songwriter, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"): I'm not sure I could take it again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YAZBEK: I feel like I need to get, like, a complete blood transfusion, go to the gym for five months and possibly have some kind of sheep gland injections for me to recover from these last two months.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (as character) Talk to me.

LUNDEN: The journey began several years ago when scriptwriter Jeffrey Lane was looking for a project to work on with Yazbek after the success of their last show, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." And Lane found himself sitting on his couch, watching a lot of Pedro Almodovar movies.

Mr. JEFFREY LANE (Scriptwriter, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"): And "Women on the Verge" just had so much joy and comedy to it that it seemed more natural with the real emotion underneath that joy.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (as character) (Singing) You think that Cupid's got a bow. Well, no. Cupid's got a needle, little fine (unintelligible) careful 'cause you'll bleed a little, but pretty soon romance will marinate your brain. Huh. Then once the temperature go up, you hardly sleep because your sheets are wet.

LUNDEN: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" tells the story of an actress, Pepa, who gets abandoned by her lover, Ivan, and desperately searches for him, trying to find out why.

Other characters are Ivan's ex-wife, Lucia, recently released from a mental hospital, and Candela, a model who discovers she's been sleeping with a terrorist. And somehow, these characters and several more end up in Pepa's penthouse apartment in Madrid, where barbiturate-laced gazpacho is on the menu.

Sherie Rene Scott plays Pepa.

Ms. SHERIE RENE SCOTT (Actress): It does take place within two days of, you know, high activity. Guns are fired. There's fire. Women fly. It's very fast-paced and cinematic and yet, actually, you know, kind of a heightened realism. I would say an absurd realism.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) (Unintelligible) stroke of luck. You're sick of what you're saying.

LUNDEN: Trying to harness all this frantic activity is director Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony Award for the recent revival of "South Pacific." His goal was to find a theatrical equivalent for the multiple locales and tempo of the Almodovar film. There are, perhaps, 200 different scenes - some as short as just a few seconds - in the musical, and the set uses four treadmills, almost constant video and scenery flying in and out. Sher says he spent a lot of time...

Mr. BARTLETT SHER (Director, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"): Trying to make it so that it would be light as a feather and an effortless transformation of images, shift of images that didn't feel heavy. His work is emotional but light. Not light, like lite light, but like it changes quickly. So it had to have that quality to it.

LUNDEN: In one number, Laura Benanti, as the model Candela, seems to pop up all over the stage, as she leaves increasingly frantic phone messages on Pepa's answering machine about the boyfriend she suspects is a terrorist.

Ms. LAURA BENANTI (Actress): It's just like getting on a treadmill for five minutes and sprinting while being funny. It's like being shot out of a cannon every single night.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

Ms. BENANTI: (as Candela) (Singing) Pepa, it's me again. Why aren't you picking up the phone? It's like my brain is gonna melt if I don't talk to you. I've got a problem in the shower, and I've only got a minute 'cause the problem in the shower is this guy that I've been dating (unintelligible). He's, what's it called, (unintelligible) like a desert sheep. And he's been here in my apartment for about a week. I met him down the (unintelligible) and I know you'd think I'm overly romantic. But you wouldn't believe the connection we have, like immediately, I was ready for him to meet my mom. Like I could feel my heart exploding like some kind of bomb.

LUNDEN: But in adapting Almodovar's comedy for the stage, the authors have also found ways to deepen some of the characters, says songwriter David Yazbek.

Mr. YAZBEK: There are things that work better on stage, and then there are things that work better in film, and then there are things you cannot possibly do on stage that you could do on film. For instance, a close-up, you can't do that on stage, but you can have a four-minute song that serves as a close-up.

LUNDEN: One of those four minute close-ups is a song called "Invisible," sung by Patti LuPone, as the deranged but very stylish Lucia.

Ms. PATTI LuPONE (Actress): It was a complicated song to unravel, but then you know who I started thinking of is the women that you see walking down Madison Avenue, shopping, getting their hair and nails done, their facials, having lunch and then going back to a home where, perhaps, they are totally invisible to their husband.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

Ms. LuPONE: (as Lucia) (Singing) Back then, the men would look and smile at me, like boys applying for a summer job, but no, I never would respond. The vacancy was filled (unintelligible). Back home, my love would whisper in my ear. Those words (unintelligible) troubled soul. That voice like sunshine when you're cold, like water when you're thirsty. And then one morning, he was gone.

LUNDEN: Author Jeffrey Lane says the show celebrates the fortitude of these women in fragile emotional states.

Mr. LANE: It's a show about people wanting the wrong things and finally getting the blessing of: Oh, this is what I needed. You know, it's the you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you know? And these women do. They keep moving forward. It's their actions and their choices that might be wrong. But the fact that they are alive, they are moving forward, they are trying to work out their lives, and they never just give up.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

Ms. LuPONE: (as Lucia) (Singing) (Unintelligible) he was gone, but he still was there.

LUNDEN: And the same might be said for the creators, who've been tweaking the show right up to opening night even trading emails with Pedro Almodovar in Spain, says director Bartlett Sher.

Mr. SHER: And the kind of synergy between artists all around the same material has been a really exciting experiment for all of us, so no matter how it turns out, at least we feel like we gave it pretty much everything we had.

LUNDEN: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" opens at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway tonight.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of musical, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown")

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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