Almodóvar's Drama Became Music for Tony Nominee David Yazbek

Tony Awards   Almodóvar's Drama Became Music for Tony Nominee David Yazbek
"This man is a genius – what a filmmaker," was composer-lyricist David Yazbek's initial reaction to seeing Pedro Almodóvar's Oscar-nominated 1988 film "Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" when it was first released in cinemas.

David Yazbek
David Yazbek Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Two decades later, and with two Tony Award nominations under his belt, Yazbek set out to musicalize the Spanish-language film that takes audiences on a ride with a group of heart-broken women who serve up valium-laced gazpacho.

Along with his Tony-nominated Dirty Rotten Scoundrels collaborator, book writer Jeffrey Lane, Yazbek adapted the film into the recent Broadway musical, which was presented by Lincoln Center Theater last fall.

"I never thought of it as a musical," Yazbek admitted. "Then a few years ago when Jeffrey Lane and I were looking for something to do, he said 'Women on the Verge,' and I still didn't see it. But after a few months and talking to him, I realized this is something we should do."

Despite a run of 30 previews and 69 performances, the Tony Award nominating committee remembered Women on the Verge, honoring Yazbek with a Tony nomination for Best Score, and singling out actresses Patti LuPone and Laura Benanti in the Best Featured Actress category.

Though the film's intermingling plotlines seemed daunting, Yazbek said he was drawn to the spirit of the characters, who are unafraid to be emotional. He said, "There's something so inherently dramatic in the flavor of the characters, especially Almodóvar's characters, and where there's drama, there's music. I never had a doubt that these characters were going to be singing and that it would work, but I also knew that my job, among many other jobs, was to avoid musical cultural clichés and to sort of honor Almodóvar's spirit of innovation and Spanishness."

Pedro Almodóvar
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Songs like "Invisible," "My Crazy Heart" and "Lie to Me" allowed Yazbek to explore a melancholy side to the characters, who were all bound in some way by unique forms of love. "That was the key to me wanting to do this," Yazbek said. "With this show, I was very excited about writing something that had some fiery drama, some sadness and then a lot of joy. It really is the Spanish zeitgeist; there's all this pain and torture surrounded by all this joy, and it all goes together. I think that's what the show is about."

Yazbek also got the blessing from the man himself. Almodóvar provided insight into the film and also attended workshop performances. "It was a wonderful experience, especially because Almodóvar was involved. He came and was involved in workshops. He screened the movie for me and a couple other people, and offered comment on the movie while we were watching it. It was a very special experience for me."

Yazbek admits that adapting the fast-paced musical for the stage, without the benefit of an out-of-town try out proved to be a challenge for the creative team, who were streamlining a world-premiere in front of New York audiences on a nightly basis. "I wish we had gone out of town," Yazbek commented. "We all decided not to. My advice to everybody: Go out of town. Just spend some time. Not that I don't think we got there, but I think we got there after we opened."

Though the gazpacho has officially cooled on its Broadway run, there is still future life in store for Women on the Verge, which is preserved on a cast album and was picked up for licensing by Music Theatre International. Yazbek also told, "There's been some talk of a London production. We're very proud of what we did [on Broadway]. But I guarantee you that if we do another production, there will be some tweaks."

He also added that he and Lane are in the beginning stages of a new musical. "It's not based on a movie," he said. "I can only say that it's a very American project and it will be a nice shift of milieu for me musically, based on a literary idea that we are going to completely take in our own direction."

Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Laura Benanti and Justin Guarini
Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Laura Benanti and Justin Guarini
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