Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Most Memorable Theatre Experiences: #6 Next to Normal

I apologize for neglecting this blog series over the past few weeks. I've been trying to cover the start of the figure skating season but now that that is underway, I'm back to theatre! I lived in Manhattan in the summer of 2009 and made it my personal goal to see every musical on Broadway. After the TONY awards, I became interested in Next to Normal and decided to wait in line for rush tickets. I thought I'd be fine arriving at 9am for a 10am box office opening, but little did I know, that was much too late. I didn't get tickets and saw Rock of Ages that night instead. On the way home from that show, I passed the Booth Theatre and happened to bump into Alice Ripley. She asked if I'd seen the show that night and I was so starstruck I could barely speak, but eventually found the words to tell her I'd waited in line but didn't get tickets. I proudly announced that I planned to get in line at 5am the next week to ensure that I'd get tickets. Then, to my surprise, Alice hugged me and told me how much she loves her fans and that she is so proud to be in a show that people love enough to wait in line for hours for rush tickets. She even told me to friend her on facebook and tell her when I was coming to the show, which I may or may not have done.

The next Friday, I arrived at the Booth Theatre at 5am and was first in line. When the box office opened at 10am I was able to purchase front row orchestra seats for $20 and could not believe my luck. I treated myself to the full theatre experience that night including a nice dinner before curtain. I hadn't listened to the music prior to seeing the show as I wanted to experience it all that night and from the beginning notes of the prelude, I was completely enraptured. I normally fall in love with shows because the music speaks to my soul, and this show was a perfect example of that. I found the blend of soft, traditional musical theatre, with rock and folk music to be genius in getting to the essence of the Goodman family. In some productions, good music can mask a weak story or poorly written book, but this show was one of those rare occasions where all elements worked perfectly in harmony. I use this phrase often, but this show is truly a play with music, because even if the score were taken away, the characters are developed enough to tell a complete story. How this show lost the TONY for Best Musical to Billy Elliott still astounds and infuriates me. Alice Ripley, who did win a TONY for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Diana Goodman, a wife and mother suffering from bipolar disorder and depression was a complete tour de force. Patti LuPone once said that the most exciting performers to watch are those that are on the verge of spinning out of control. This describes Alice's performance perfectly. One minute she was in control of her voice and body and the next moment she wasn't and not only did that make her performance exciting, it made her portrayal of a mentally ill woman believable. While the other performers, J Robert Spencer as Dan, Kyle Dean Massey as Gabe, Jennifer Damiano as Natalie, Louis Hobson as the Doctors, and Adam Chanler-Berat as Henry were all fantastic, in my opinion they only served to support the character of Diana. While I think this show is stellar regardless of the casting, I think that Alice Ripley has become so iconic in this role that without her, it may not have much staying power on Broadway. In fact, now that Marin Mazzie has taken over the role, the show has all but posted its closing notice. But regardless of how much longer it lasts on Broadway, this show shed light on a topic previously untouched by musical theatre, developed a cult following, and truly touched a new generation of theatre-goers. And did I mention that it won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama?

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