Based on a unique Spanish drama-farce often considered to be one of the best films of all time, this show had every advantage you’d think a show could ask for; it featured a score by the composer of The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and an all-star cast including such Broadway legends as Sherie Renee Scott, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Laura Benanti, and Patti LuPone (and for some strange reason, Justin Guarini). And yet, in spite of all that talent and star power, it still went over like the Black Plague.
This was one of the most nerve-wracking shows of all time, with a book that is constantly cutting between scenes and locations and one of the most elaborately insane stagings ever seen on Broadway. The creators presumably thought they were being true to the spirit of the original film, which was already a wildly exaggerated exercise in controlled chaos. The problem is that the film was already pushing the limits of how much sheer insanity an audience could take. Here, the ADD-riddled storytelling method and constant freakish visual gimmicks, combined with the convoluted and wildly melodramatic story inherited from the film, just turned the show into an incoherent assault on the senses.
David Yazbek is an enormous talent, one of the finest musical-comedy specialists on Broadway today, but this is pretty much the worst score he ever wrote. Granted, there are signs of his talent here and there…the lyrics are often interesting and do a pretty good job of summing up the original film’s unique philosophy. The problem is the music itself, which varies between being wildly frenetic and annoying and sounding like Latin-flavored muzak, and which only adds to the show’s other problems.
The performers, particularly Laura Benanti and Patti LuPone, do a fine job considering the circumstances…even Guarini is much better here than he was in From Justin To Kelly…but even they can only do so much with this material. This was particularly true of Brian Stokes Mitchell, who spent the entire show plying an embarrassing ‘Latin lover’ schtick that made him sound like a complete ass. At least Patti LuPone did get the show’s one genuinely excellent song, an exploration of literal insanity called “Invisible” that seems like it might have a life outside the show in the cabaret scene.
Still, even if, thanks to the stars and the source material, this show was a classier and more sophisticated disaster than its closest contemporary Wonderland, in its own way it was every bit as annoying. It’s also worth noting that the plot of the original film was pretty heavily inspired by the classic Joan Crawford film Johnny Guitar (they acknowledge this by referencing the earlier film repeatedly in the script), and there is an off-Broadway musical of Johnny Guitar that is a much more successful adaptation than this trainwreck. If you really feel the need to hear some version of this story in song, seek that one out…it’s actually quite interesting, and at any rate it is vastly better than this.