…that’s way too far away. But something next to normal, that would be okay. Yeah something next to normal that’s that thing I’d like to try. Close enough to normal to get by.
“Holy shit.” That is pretty much the only way that I can describe next to normal (and the feeling that I had when my name was announced for the lottery). I had such high expectations coming in to this musical, and it exceeded every single one. I live in Ohio, not exactly a mecca of musical theater. Most of my exposure of what is out there season to season comes during the Tony’s. At the beginning of last year’s Tony’s, I had no idea what next to normal was, but by the end of the show I had the soundtrack downloaded. I listen to it constantly. I am always waiting for the tour announcement. It was the one things I
wanted needed to see while in New York. First off, the set. It is brilliant in it’s simplicity. The last show I saw was Guys and Dolls. It had intricate parts, was shiny and new. The next to normal stage is basic. It’s a three-story…scaffold I guess. Stairs connect each story, and the cast somehow manages to fly up and down those, while I know I would fall. Often. There’s no curtain, no blackouts, no moving parts. The kitchen table and den chair move to the foreground with a push from a cast member. The walls of the house turn into Diana’s face during songs that take place in her head. The shelves used to hold props are black wire shelves that I bought from Target. Another thing that I thought was great, was that during some scenes, you see other people doing things in the background. You see Dan cleaning up messes and drinking a glass of whiskey (okay, those are the only ones I remember. I followed Dan around stage.)
One of the reasons I was so excited for this show is because most of the original Broadway cast is still around. Unfortuantly, Alice Ripley (who I later found out I’m only 2 degrees away from) was out the entire weekend. But her understudy, Jessica Phillips was amazing as Diana. I love Alice Ripley’s performance, but I don’t like some of the songs as they are on the soundtrack. Phillips’ version of “I Miss the Mountains” made me love the song. J.Robert Spencer, playing Dan, was fantastic. I’ve had a “voice” crush on him for years, since Jersey Boys. It hit a high during next to normal. And then turned into a full-fledged crush. Congrats on that Mr. Spencer. This is equal to winning a Tony. Upon returning home, I found out that he is leaving the show on May 16. I’m so glad I was there to see him.
Jenn Damiano and Adam Chanler-Berat were perfect as Diana and Dan’s daughter, Natalie, and her boyfriend, Henry. Adam played the role of a stoner particularly well. Kyle Dean Massey was brilliant as Gabe. The way that he flew around the stage was breathtaking. There were moments during “I’m Alive” that I was sure he was going to slip and fall. Louis Hobson played the role of Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden. He had a few moments that stood out, including the moments where Diana imagines him as rock star. I also never realized that “Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling (Reprise)” was sung by him…I’m not sure why. I love his voice as well (well..this statement can be made for anyone in the cast).
This story is absolutely heartbreaking, but manages to end on a note of hope. I knew all of the songs, but didn’t know their context. The moment Diana brought out the cake at the end of “It’s Gonna Be Good”…I cried for the first time. And it continued through “You Don’t Know/I Am The One” and “Superboy and the Invisible Girl”, which is my favorite song. Damiano sings this song so beautifully. The moment Diana proclaims “I’ve loved you as much as I can…”…ugh. Hearbreaking seems to be how I describe so much of this, but that’s exactly what it is…heartbreaking.
(Ignore the horrible audio. Thanks Tony’s.)
I had no idea what happened in “There’s A World” from the song…the moment that her dead son convinces Diana to commit suicide…ugh. So heartbreaking. That and leading into “I’ve Been” were also emotional moments. “I’ve Been” is one of my favorite songs that Spencer sings. The song that closes out Act 1, “A Light in the Dark” is wonderful, and for some reason I’ve never connected it to the Act 2 closer, “Light”, which is my favorite song (okay, there’s multiples).
The second half of Act 2 was beyond heartbreaking. Everyone makes you FEEL so much emotion. You understand what they’re going through, you even see things that they may not. And then the show ends on this brilliant song, “Light”. Everyone isn’t living a normal life, but they’re getting there. Diana for the first time has found the help that she needs, even though she’s away from her family. Dan realizes that the death of Gabe has affected him too, and has gotten the help he need. Henry promises to stay by Natalie’s side even if her worst fear, if she becomes her mother, comes true. And that helps Natalie out. And Gabe’s there watching over all of them. And for the first time, you feel that it may start to work out for these guys. They’ll have a life that’s close enough to normal to get by.
I think the theater jumped out of their seats for curtain call. The cast, the story, the band….it was all perfect. If you’re in New York, I recommend checking it out. next to normal is playing at the Booth theater on 45th and Broadway. The North America tour begins November 2010 in Los Angeles. I’m already planning to be at the Cleveland stop in June 2011!
And when the night has finally gone. And when we see the new day dawn. We’ll wonder how we wandered for so long, so blind. The wasted world we thought we knew, the light will make it look brand new. So let it shine. Day after day, we’ll find the will to find our way. Knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun. And when our long night is done, there will be light. When we open up our light. Sons and daughters, husbands, wives can fight that fight. There will be light.