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Stage Door: The Scottsboro Boys, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

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The Scottsboro Boys is an astounding, gut-wrenching production. An American tragedy, it recalls the infamous story of nine black teens falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. By cleverly employing the minstrel format, it charts a notorious miscarriage of justice in the Jim Crow South.

Now at the Lyceum, the final Kander and Ebb musical, with book by David Thompson, uses the grotesque minstrel imagery to underscore the visceral prejudice against the defendants and their Jewish lawyer Samuel S. Leibowitz, who argued in both Alabama and the Supreme Court to reverse the guilty verdicts. The Scottsboro Boys, which covers 1931-1937, records the defendants' endless torment; a painful reminder of the sins of racism.

Narrated by Interlocutor (an ideal John Cullum), nattily dressed in a white suit, he is surrounded by the Scottsboro Boys, all extraordinary, and two minstrels, Mr. Bones (Colman Domingo) and Mr. Tambo (Forrest McClendon), who expertly play various roles. The show gives each man an individual personality, no small feat, employing poignant exchanges and Southern caricatures to capture the cruelty and insanity of the case. The score adroitly mines jazz, blues and gospel music, evoking the Depression-era atmosphere.

In this version, Joshua Henry expertly plays Haywood Patterson, who defies his jailers with a mix of brooding strength and martyrdom. (Brandon Victor Dixon, who had the role at the Vineyard earlier this year, imbued Haywood with a more defiant, electric air.)

Susan Stroman, who directed The Producers and Thou Shalt Not, has used her considerable skills to illustrate more with less. The set is almost Brechtian bare, save for a few chairs. She gets the pacing just right and moving performances from her cast. Scottsboro Boys will leave you shattered; it's the definition of inspired theater.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, inspired by Pedro Almodóvar's 1988 breakout movie hit, is strictly of the screwball variety. The musical version at the Belasco is a fizzy cocktail of splashy set projections, a jaunty, emotional score and fun performances. Like the original film, the colors are bright; dangling phone cords highlight the missed connections, adding to the characters' crazy antics.

Given the star-studded cast -- Sheri Rene Scott as Pepa, the dumped mistress, Patti LuPone as Lucia, the scorned wife whose been in a mental hospital for 19 years, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Ivan, the debonair cad unraveling the women, and Laura Benanti as Candela, the dopey model bedding a Shite terrorist -- expectations are high. Benanti is a scream, she mines her role for every comic moment, though Scott, blessed with a fantastic voice, isn't as lively as her on-screen counterpart. LuPone role has been enlarged, given her theatrical status, and her solo "Invisible" is terrifically delivered. So is Danny Burstein's ubiquitous taxi driver, who sets the tone with the opening number "Madrid."

Almodóvar's film is a paean to romantic lunacy in Eighties Madrid. The musical adheres to the film script, and director Barlett Sher tries to replicate its cinematic pacing, as characters zigzag across the stage. They are aided by David Yazbek's melodic songs, the man responsible for The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The production works hard to create Almodóvar's visual landscape and anarchic tone, but adds a sympathetic gloss. Women on the Verge is light, zany entertainment.

Pre-Post Theater Restaurant: A.O.C. - L'aile Ou La Cuisse
When Bogart tells Bergman in Casablanca, "We'll always have Paris," he's referencing the heady days of their romance, spent, in part, in French bistros. A.O.C. Laile ou la Cuisse is a wonderful New York facsimile. A charming French restaurant in the heart of Greenwich Village, it benefits from a traditional menu -- the foie gras, escargot, confit de canard (duck confit), entrecôte (angus shell steak) -- all beautifully prepared; the meat succulent, the vegetables crispy fresh. House specialties include beef bourguignon, le cassoulet de Castelnaudary and quiche du jour, accompanied by an impressive cellar stocked exclusively with French wines. The sumptuous fare, courtesy of chef/owner Romain Bonnans, who hails from Toulouse, draws neighborhood regulars, European tourists and audiences from the nearby off-Broadway theaters. It's easy to see why. The cuisine is first-rate -- the raspberry and chocolate tarts ensure a sweet finish -- and the staff is attentive. Surrounded by posters of the Foilies-Bergère, the cozy bistro and seven-seat bar, complete with outdoor garden, is perfect for a romantic dinner or laid-back brunch. Best of all, the kitchen is open till 2 a.m.

A.O.C. - L'aile Ou La Cuisse
314 Bleecker St., New York, NY
212-675-9463
aocnyc.com/