Actors are nearly always enthusiastic about a show when speaking to the press during rehearsals and previews. Usually, though, much of that ardor is reserved for their own role and process. Chatting with Patti LuPone and Brian Stokes Mitchell about Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is something else entirely. The two veteran stars are most rapturous when singing the praises of their fellow cast members, the creative team and the crew.
At a restaurant called Bistro, across from the Belasco Theatre, Mitchell turns a question about him to the bigger picture. "What's really cool about this company is that everyone aspires to excellence," he says. "When I'm not on during rehearsals, usually I'm in my dressing room reading, but with this show I'm out in front watching. Everyone is so creative."
The everyone here includes Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti (LuPone's Tony-winning Gypsy co-star) and Justin Guarini. "It's a really lovely atmosphere backstage," adds LuPone, who just published her memoir.
After 45 minutes — when they're supposed to head back — they're still gushing. "It's like watching masters at work," Mitchell says. "As actors you live for this kind of communication and camaraderie," LuPone adds.
A half-hour later, with Mitchell saying, "It's the most collaborative show I've ever been on," it falls to the reporter to remind the two, again, they are due back at work.
The smooth, charming Mitchell and the fiery, passionate LuPone — who have six Tony nominations and three Tony Awards between them — have never worked together before. (They were to co-star in Annie Get Your Gun at Chicago's Ravinia Festival this past August, but Mitchell dropped out due to his filming "Jumping the Broom," with Angela Bassett). But their mutual admiration goes back a long way.
"Stokes and I were trying to figure out when in fact we did meet," LuPone recalls, "and we've known each other so long we can't remember," she says with a chuckle.
Women marks Mitchell's return to Broadway after seven years away, during which he spent time with his young son. After turning down scripts each year, he was finally seduced by Women.
Married 16 years, Mitchell initially looked down on his character, the philandering Ivan, as a "stereotypical Don Juan." But during rehearsals he realized he'd been the one to break up relationships in the past. He thought, "'I'm more like this guy than I thought.' The show makes me want to call all my ex-girlfriends and say, 'I'm sorry.'"
LuPone's agents advised her not to take the role of ex-wife Lucia because it wasn't the lead. But doing a workshop convinced her, "I have to do this piece," she recalls.
LuPone, who says she's known "a lot of guys just like Ivan" (her husband excepted), says the film was more cerebral but "the music adds a level of emotionalism. It strikes a chord with women."
Mitchell says the show "captures Pedro Almodóvar's spirit" but is "original musical theatre in an artful way." He raves that the innovative visual elements pack a wallop.
"It's not a spectacle or a theme park. It's still a piece of theatre," LuPone adds. "But what they're creating is something I don't think anybody has ever seen before. I call it 'experimental theatre with money.'"