“Women on the Verge” a zesty showcase for divas and dancers

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From left, Dina DiCostanzo (in purple dress), Summer Naomi Smart (blue and white stripes), Cory Goodrich (red skirt), Hollis Resnik (black dress) and Colette Todd (turquoise) star in the musical “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” at Theatre at the Center.

“WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN”

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

± Through Oct. 12

± Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Rd., Munster, Ind.

± Tickets: $40-$44

± Info: (219) 836-3255 or (800) 511-1552; http://www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com

± Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission

When “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” the musical based on director Pedro Almodovar’s 1988 film, debuted at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater in 2010, it featured a starry cast but failed to win enthusiastic reviews and lasted only a few months. The show’s Chicago area debut, which opened Sunday at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Indiana, should go a long way in altering its fortunes.

Not only does this grand-scale farce about love and all its attendant lunacy feature a sensational score by David Yazbek, whose credits include “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and whose clever lyrics here are paired with music that ranges from a tango and disco number to comic arias). But it is a delicious vehicle for Cory Goodrich, Summer Naomi Smart and Hollis Resnik — some of Chicago’s most gifted divas, who also happen to be terrific comedians. And watching this zany tale of a group of women in 1980s Madrid, whose relationships with men lead to 48 hours of outlandish chaos, you really have to wonder what went wrong with the Broadway production. Maybe it just lacked the sleight-of-hand skill of veteran director William Pullinsi and his expert collaborators, choreographer Danny Herman and music director William Underwood, who understand exactly the tone and brilliance required for this comic exercise.

To recall the time period conjured in the show’s storyline, let’s just say it ranges from a recipe for gazpacho blended with Valium, and a brick-size portable phone to capture the “real time” moment to white patent leather Courreges boots pulled from a trunk to suggest decades gone by. Serving as our periodic guide is the Taxi Driver (George Andrew Wolff, deftly suggesting an Almodovar stand-in).

At the center of the madness is 43-year-old Pepa Marcos (Goodrich, perfection in a demanding role that requires both real emotional gravity and a sense of mischief). A Spanish actress widely known for her TV commercials, she is the longtime, live-in mistress and costar of actor Ivan Beltran (Larry Adams, never better, as the clueless middle age Lothario with the seductive voice). But he has just left a message on her answering machine saying he is leaving her, and she is distraught.

Distraught in a different way is Ivan’s ex-wife, Lucia (Resnik, a hoot, who knocks it out of the park with her courtroom song, “Invisible”), who was dumped 19 years earlier. Lucia can’t cope with being middle aged or having a grown son, Carlos (the very funny Nathan Gardner, who resembles a young Ira Glass), who wants to leave mama and live with his fiancee, Marisa (the terrific dancer-actress Dina DiCostanzo). So she hires a feminist lawyer (spot-on Colette Todd) to plead her case against Ivan.

And then there is Pepa’s friend, the flaky, promiscuous model, Candela (Smart, who makes magic by blending her va-va-voom figure with her comic instincts). She is blind to the fact that her latest boyfriend (who leaves his grenade belt and Uzi laying around)just happens to be a terrorist with some very nasty plans. (The name of the terrorist group is from the wrong era and should be revised.)

Set designer Ann N. Davis has created the aura of a grand Madrid apartment, and Brenda Winstead’s costumes and Kevin Barthel’s wigs are period perfect. The show would probably have benefited from some editing, but as Ami Silvestri, who plays an older woman of Madrid, counsels: Everything happens for a reason. So maybe the idea here was to keep the laughter going as long as possible.

NOTE: Sunday’s performance was dedicated to the memory of Bernie Yvon, the Chicago actor killed in a car crash on his way to rehearsal a couple of weeks ago. It lived up to his high standards.

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