Walking through the backstage corridors of Lincoln Center Theater yesterday, on my way to the first rehearsal for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, I couldn't help feeling a little forlorn. Racks of costumes for South Pacific, which had closed on Sunday, still crowded the hallways, awaiting a trip to storage. The premises had the special sadness of a place a partying crowd has just abandoned.
There was no more time for tears, however, because as soon as I descended a few floors I heard energetic voices promising a new party: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. A meet-and-greet gathering, preliminary to a table read-through of the script, was taking place in LCT's large rehearsal room. The cast and creative team were chatting with the staff of the theater. It was an occasion where, to quote Luther Billis from South Pacific (whose interpreter, Danny Burstein, is in the Women on the Verge cast), "everybody gets to know everybody pretty well."
Speaking to the assembled (including a cast of roughly two dozen), Bernard Gersten, LCT's Executive Producer, embodied Polonius's line from Hamlet: "Brevity is the soul of wit." Gersten's speech consisted entirely of another line from Shakespeare, from Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. "Masters, spread yourselves."
There is no way to out-clever that, so André Bishop, LCT's Artistic Director, didn't try. Instead, in his warm remarks, he went in another direction. He shared A Latesummer Night's Dream: a reverie that he himself had had the previous evening. In it, he was sitting behind a table on the stage of Carnegie Hall, and attempting to recite the complete works of T. S. Eliot. Things weren't going well, but, luckily for Bishop, Bartlett Sher -- the director of Women on the Verge and South Pacific -- arrived to rescue him.
Sher is a master at rescue -- and at the entertaining presentation of a production's designs. With the occasional assistance of Women on the Verge's set designer, Michael Yeargan, Sher showed the mini models of the show's scenery. I'm not going to go into detail here, since this is a new musical opening in New York and deserves careful nurturing. Suffice it to say that that the production will be beautiful, capturing all the explosive color of the booming post-Franco Madrid in which the story is set.
Sher wound down his presentation (David Yazbek, the show's composer and lyricist, also spoke wittily) with a reference or two to Pedro Almodóvar, who of course directed the effervescent 1988 movie on which the LCT musical is based.
According to Sher, on this day before the first LCT Women on the Verge rehearsal, Almodóvar had started shooting a new movie in his native country. The film is called The Skin I Live In, and it stars Antonio Banderas, who was featured in the Women on the Verge movie. Anyway, Sher said that on the first day of shooting Skin, there had been rain on the plain in Spain, wreaking temporary chaos on the production. As it happens, on this first day of rehearsal for LCT's Women on the Verge in New York it was also raining. But, owing to the mostly indoor nature of theater, everyone stayed calm and dry. There was no chaos at Lincoln Center. Only joy.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.