Big Voices, Big Hair, and Big Breakdowns

The Nazareth College Theatre and Dance Department opened its production season with a big bang – and even bigger hair – with the musical, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

The musical was adapted by Jeffrey Lane (book) and David Yazback (music) from Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 Oscar-nominated dramedy of the same name.  Women on the Verge… opened on Broadway in October 2010 with an original cast of many Broadway veterans (Patti Lupone, Sherri Rene Scott, and Laura Benanti to name a few).

Set in the heart of Madrid in 1987, Women on the Verge… centers around Pepa, a working actress and singer who has just been left by her lover, Ivan. Along the way we also run into Lucia, Ivan’s ex-wife; their son Carlos, and his uptight fiance, Marisa; Paulina, Lucia’s power hungry lawyer;  Candela, Pepa’s eccentric, love-struck, model friend, and her terrorist boyfriend; and an elusive taxi driver who helps to narrate and navigate the madness and mayhem throughout the show.

A predominantly female cast features a multitude of strong, flawed, and emotionally unstable female characters that the audience can’t help but fall in love with, especially when they are played by equally compelling actresses. With a mess of crazy curls, a tight pencil skirt, and knee-high boots, musical theatre major, Kit Prelewitz (‘17) embodies the Valium popping Pepa who is, quite literally, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Prelewitz is a vocal powerhouse, displaying her chops in a multitude of numbers throughout the production (most notably “Lovesick”).  She could easily carry the character with her vocals alone, but the fact that she has the acting training to compliment her vocals, made her portrayal of Pepa all the more alluring.

Opposite Prelewitz, is musical theatre major, Katja Stavenhagen (‘18) who portrays Pepa’s best friend, the sexy, slightly neurotic model, Candela. Stavenhagen adds to many a comedic moment throughout the show, especially with the introduction of her character in the number “Model Behavior.” Emily Jean Mullin (‘17), another musical theatre major, plays the scorned ex-wife, Lucia with a matriarchal air. perfectly embodying Lucia’s diva-esque presence. Her rich, alto vocals are beautifully featured in her rendition of “Invisible” in act II.

Each actress possesses strong vocals, making the title song at the end of act I, by far the highlight of the night. Every female member of the cast takes to the stage in a mania filled number of twitching, flailing, and head spinning, as the women portray a literal nervous breakdown in a number that is both powerful, amusing, and irresistibly intriguing.

Other notable performances come from musical theatre major, Abby Swanson (‘19), as the straight-laced, pushy, Marisa, who has a rather orgasmic character arch by the very end of act II, and musical theatre major Grant Richards (‘17), as the anxious Carlos, who finds himself torn between the loyalty between his mother and his fiance.  

With a relatively small cast, each ensemble member has a featured role, each of which brought their own unique moments of hilarity to an already lively show. The entire cast also adopted Spanish accents, all of varying strengths, which they tended to slip in and out of throughout the course of the musical. Accents and dialects of any kind should be considered a difficult and impressive feat for any actor, and even with the inconsistencies, the accents did help to contribute to the overall experience – no one would want to hear a nasal Rochesterian accent in late-eighties Madrid.

Any show set in a black box theatre has both its advantages and disadvantages. The audience must sacrifice full visibility of the action in exchange for an intimate experience with the actors. Though there will be times when your view will be obstructed, due to the nature of the black box layout, the tradeoff is well worth it.

The set is sparse (as is to be expected in a black box production) featuring a simple apartment layout, lavishly furnished with cheetah print furniture and zebra print rugs, with pink accents scattered throughout – though the accents and zebra print did give off a vibe indicative of Claire’s or Limited Too circa early 2000s.  Perhaps the most compelling part of the set was the large-scale black and white portraits of the cast, and photographs of Madrid’s cityscapes hung along the back wall.

The impressive directorial team is led by the producing artistic director of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, Brett Smock (also responsible for choreography), with musical direction by assistant professor of musical theatre, Corinne Aquilina.

Women on the Verge is a sexy, hilarious, modern melodrama with a dynamic cast and a powerful opening production for the theatre and dance department that you do not want to miss!

The show continues through October 23 at Nazareth College Arts Center in the black box theatre. Tickets start at $13, and are free for students with a Naz ID. Shows on Friday and Saturday at 7:30PM, and Sunday at 2:00PM.

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