JANUARY 30, 2008: Last night, I saw Next to Normal, the new musical at Second Stage featuring my dear college pal Alice Ripley, Brian D’Arcy James and some younguns I had never heard of before. I have to say I’m honestly conflicted about the show.
I thought the music was fine, some of it quite nice, but some of it nothing really special. I responded more to the songs individually than to the score as a whole. But the opening number is lovely and there are a couple of grand duets and trios throughout the show. Some of the lyrics were good, some weren’t. The set was clever, the lights a little much and the sound too loud. BUT, and here’s where the conflicted part comes in, I was incredibly moved! I practically cried through the entire show! So something in this show has touched me.
The story (which I won’t go into, partly because it’s complex and partly because almost anything I say will be a spoiler) is something I’d never seen before and how these particular characters respond to these particular situations was very moving to me. And the performers are all phenomenal. I’m telling you, if this show were on Broadway, all the leads would have to be considered front-runners for Tonys. This is the kind of stuff I haven’t seen Alice do since college. I’ve always said that as grand a singer she is, she’s an even better actress, and this combines the both. She’s really wonderful. I’m hoping this show really leads to bigger and better things for her—she’s finally moved out of the ingénue arena and into a leading lady. How that limits her career from now on remains to be seen, but she is truly incredible in this show. Not that she hasn't been incredible before, of course she has. But this is on another level, in my opinion.
Brian D’Arcy James is also wonderful, as are the other performers (again, can’t get specific here). So I imagine that there is something here in this show, because I can’t have been so moved for so long just by the performers. There was something else that touched me, though I can’t really say exactly what it was. I’d be really interested to hear what other people think, if they see it. It has been up on TDF, so you can get a pretty cheap ticket. I’m happy to be a little more detailed in a plot summary, if you like, though I think not really knowing what the show will turn out to be could be a plus in this instance.
There was a talkback after the performance, which was also interesting. The authors were there and they asked the audience a question about how something played out. They gave us three choices—I picked the first choice, along with maybe two other people. No one picked the second choice and everyone else picked the third. It was very interesting how so many people see the exact same show in radically different ways! If the comments of the subscribers who stayed for the talkback are any indication, this will be a successful show for Second Stage. I hope so. Alice’s performance needs to be seen.
(Oh, and on the Chinese horoscope front: I didn’t fall in love at first sight last night, darn it. Oh well. I’ll keep trying.)
So...it was interesting to me to read what I wrote after all this time. Next to Normal went to D.C. after the Off-Broadway production to make some changes and, in my opinion, it got brilliantly better. Here's what I wrote after I saw the Broadway production in 2009:
3/30/2009: Finally, last night I saw Next to Normal at the Booth Theater. I think the changes they’ve made to the show since I saw it at Second Stage are really terrific. The show really hurtles forward now—we get our inciting incident a little earlier and it is quite powerful. I was quite glad they cut the songs they cut and I enjoyed the new ones very much. Alice Ripley is giving one of those performances people will talk about for years. I don’t think I’m saying that just because I know and love her—I really do believe it. It’s the perfect marriage of performer and role. I found myself incredibly moved throughout the piece, even though I knew already what was going to happen. I still gasped at certain points, which was amazing. But everyone is performing at a wonderfully high level and the show seems more cohesive than before. I loved it and can’t wait to go back.
I actually went back four times, both to support Alice and to enjoy the show. It never failed to move me profoundly. So I guess what this tells me is to never take my first opinion as gospel, especially if the creators believe enough in the show to keep working and keep shaping the show. Of course, my original prediction of Tony wins DID come true, so there's that. I listen to the cast album frequently (it's one of those scores that I have to listen to from start to finish, instead of a song here and there), so Next to Normal will always have a place in my heart. There are some shows I can't imagine seeing again after their first incarnation, but it would probably behoove me to remember how this one knocked me out on second (third, fourth and fifth) viewing...