So how does one go about getting the rights to turn an Almodóvar movie into a Broadway musical? Jeffrey Lane spoke about the process one afternoon this week, while the cast for the project in question, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, rehearsed next door in a sunny midtown studio.
Lane, who wrote the musical's book, and his collaborator, composer/lyricist David Yazbek, who met in 2002 and worked together on the 2005 hit Broadway show, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, approached the Madrid-based Almodóvar organization in 2005. "It took us two years to get the rights," Lane said, "and one-and-a-half years to get the initial meeting. Almodóvar" - meaning Pedro, the director, who is in business with his producer brother, Agustin - "was busy with various projects. But three years ago, we got the option, and here we are in rehearsal. As musicals go, that's a relatively short time period."
Lane and Yazbek had already given the Almodóvars a rough idea of their concept before securing the rights. "Once we began working in earnest," Lane said, "we would send them drafts. We introduced them to Bart [Sher, the production's director]. They saw South Pacific, and loved it."
Pedro Almodóvar attended all three workshops of the musical. "He was very supportive," Lane said, adding that among the director's many contributions was "letting us know if something didn't ring true. If something we'd done didn't quite reflect Spanish culture accurately, he'd point that out."
Lane grew up in Wantagh, on Long Island, a community known as The Gateway to Jones Beach and as the initial resting place of the Nixons' cocker spaniel, Checkers. "As a kid, I'd come in to the city all the time," Lane said. "The first show I saw was The Sound of Music."
Lane got his showbiz start in daytime television, winning two Emmys for his writing on "Ryan's Hope." He went on to write scripts and act as Executive Producer for the sitcom "Mad About You" and received an Emmy nom for the TV movie, "The Murder of Mary Phagan," about the 1913 Leo Frank story that also served as the basis for the musical Parade, which was seen at Lincoln Center Theater in 1998.
As for his collaboration with Yazbek, Lane said, "When we get started, we talk about the overall direction of the show. Then I do an outline." For Women on the Verge, Lane said that Yazbek wrote a couple of songs without the book. And they've added at least one scene that isn't in the movie. "But our collaboration process varies," Lane added.
Lane said that storytelling is a crucial aspect of turning a movie into a musical. "Pedro's form is so kinetic and fractured. At the same time, it's still a linear story. But in an odd way you can go more towards showing what the characters are thinking. That's one of the many things that's made working on this show such an interesting experience."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com