I have been meaning for a very long time to see Broadway's Next to Normal. My friend Paula, who ushers at Second Stage Theatre, saw it off-Broadway and told me how good it was and I said "I've got to see it", but I didn't.
Then a few weeks ago it won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and I said I have to see it. I went to the website and saw that J. Robert Spencer, who plays Dan, the husband, was leaving soon, and again I said "I have to see it". Finally, I got an email offering $50 tickets for a few performances, and when plans that I had for one of those nights fell through, I bought my ticket. And I was glad I did.
The show is about a mother of two who is battling mental illness. Alice Ripley won a Tony last year for her performance as Diana, the troubled mother. The show also won a Best Score Tony. Both awards were very well deserved, as Ripley is fantastic, both humorous and heartbreaking in her showy role, and the music is terrific. It's a rock score, like Rent, and the band actually plays on the stage, well, above the stage.
The play reminded me of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner, August:Osage County, in that the subject matter is a family in crisis, and the story takes the viewer on an emotional journey. You really feel wrung out by the end of the show.
Jennifer Damiano plays the daughter Natalie, an artistic high school high achiever who is struggling with her mother's illness and finds a kind boyfriend in Henry, played in the performance I saw by understudy Brian Crum. Damiano has a powerful voice, and I am sure we will see a lot of her in the future. She hits all the right notes of being a teenager.
Kyle Dean Massey plays son Gabe, and he is a whirlwind on the stage, bringing a huge energy to his dancing and singing, along with his underlying anger at his family. He's very easy on the eyes too.
While the showier role is Diana, the heart of the show belongs to Spencer's father, Dan. Spencer really breaks your heart as a man torn between caring for his wife, who doesn't seem to get any better no matter what kind of therapy she gets, and trying to give his daughter a normal life. I loved his performance; it was full of nuance, sadness, anger and confusion.
My only problem with the show, and this is one I find frequently with rock scores, is that the music sometimes drowns out the singing, and the overlapping singing makes it difficult to understand the lyrics at times. To get the full effect of the show, you need to buy the soundtrack CD, which in this case is a good buy. It's filled with great performances from to bottom, especially "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" a duet between the siblings.
Next to Normal is a near-perfect show; it has the power of a great dramatic play and a wonderful score that makes it a musical not to be missed. Paula was so right!