Recent Posts

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


next to normal is easily one of the best contemporary musicals to date (and easily one of my personal favorites...ever).   It is everything a musical should be - moving, heartbreaking, haunting, thought provoking (with humorous moments), it has characters and a storyline which are mostly well thought out and  music that stays with you long after you have departed the theatre.  In an era of musical theatre in which the term "groundbreaking" is thrown around an awful lot to describe a show, next to normal just might be one of them.  next to normal challenges its audience to think beyond what you see, who you are and what you believe to be true.

next to normal is a story that mirrors what life can sometimes be like when life is spinning out of control - feeling alone and misunderstood but yet somehow being able to find a way back to the truth.  The show is the way it is now because of director Michael Grief and producer David Stone who took the existing book and music by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt (respectively) and tightened the story which was a little bit unclear and long and helped focus it into the Pulitzer Prize winning show that it has become.

It should be known that I have been a very big supporter of next to normal out of the gate, since I first discovered 2005 workshop/demo tracks on YouTube (when it was still called Feeling Electric - take a listen if you are so inclined to compare what it was to what its become).   Even though in its workshopped state, next to normal was a completely different show than it is now, the core of it was still compelling to me.  This contemporary musical about a dysfunctional family coping with loss and mental illness, was (and is even more-so now) deeply emotional, deeply moving and runs the gamut of emotions throughout the performance.  This is made true because in large part to the actors who inhabit the Goodman family (and supporting characters) in the touring cast.

Alice Ripley
Alice Ripley and next to normal have become synonymous with one another.  The show certainly wouldn't be what it is now without her and anyone who will have the pleasure of seeing her perform the role of Diana Goodman will see what a tour de force she is in the show.  Alice Ripley is no stranger to career defining roles.  Though she has had a long career on the Broadway stage and made her mark in the indie rock world, prior to next to normal, theatre audiences will likely first remember her as Violet - one-half of the Hilton conjoined-twins - in Side Show (which earned Ripley her first Tony nomination).   

As Diana Goodman in next to normal, Ripley is a revelation.  Reprising the role that earned her a Tony Award for best actress in a musical, Ripley brings a passionate and complex character to life with such heartbreaking pain and grief.  When she sings, she sings from her soul with such anguish that it is almost entrancing.  Ripley is by far the strongest component in next to normal, but she shares the stage equally with every member of the ensemble who helps to make up Diana in all her glory and her pain.

If Ripley is the strongest member of the cast then Los Angeles native, Emma Hunton (Natalie) is a close second and could not have been a more perfect daughter to Diana.  While the characters of Dan or even Gabe should have been the stronger supporting leads, it was Hunton whose performance really stood out in the cast.  She brought more depth and personality to the character than (I) have seen before with a pretty fantastic voice to boot.  As the child living the in the shadow of her more beloved brother (Superboy and the Invisible Girl), her Natalie was more sassy than angry and vulnerable than hurt.  Hunton as Natalie really fought to be seen in a family overrun by the past with such grace and force.
Curt Hansen, Emma Hunton, Preston Sadlier, Jeremy Kushiner, Alice Ripley, Asa Somers
As Gabe, Curt Hansen was ironically sometimes overshadowed by the vocal powerhouse of his sister Natalie (Hunton) while still very good.  Hansen managed to hit his character's high notes with relative ease and still managed to hold his own as he effortlessly soared through the three-story stage around poles and gliding up and down flights of stairs at a time.

Asa Somers (who played the role of Dr. Madden during the show's off-Broadway engagement at Second Stage Theatre) graduated to the role of Dan Goodman on-tour, Jeremy Kushnier as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine and Preston K. Sadleir (who played was a very sweet Henry) rounded out the well-cast remaining members of the touring company of next to normal.

next to normal is a very important piece of contemporary musical theatre which in this case  legitimately earns the title of groundbreaking.  Other contemporary shows have brought something new (whether it be stylistic because of the music or staging) to the musical theatre landscape, but next to normal faces real issues like mental illness, suicide, drug addiction (which makes it sound like an episode of Oprah) head on and bares the soul of theses issues and its affect for all to see.

next to normal runs through January 2 at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre.  Click for tickets and more information on the LA run or to find out when the show is coming to a city near you, click for tour info.


Related Posts with Thumbnails