Sunday, October 04, 2009

Next to Normal

Photo: Joan Marcus

The best seat in the house is a matter of opinion. Some people prefer first row mezzanine center so that they can view the entire stage picture. Other people like four or five rows back in the orchestra so that they are close, but still have some perspective. I prefer to sit as close as possible. On Thursday, I had the wonderful experience of seeing Next to Normal first row center orchestra. (Thanks to Susan and Andrea for getting to Shubert Alley at 7:30 in the morning to buy rush tickets!) Yes, there are things you miss sitting first row--in the case of Next to Normal, you can't see the entire top section of the set. But, oh, what you do get to see. And feel. For example, the first row reveals whole new levels to Alice Ripley's performance. Her lips move nervously while the others talk. Paranoia wafts off her skin. You experience her craziness as you might experience a friend's. And the most emotional scenes are right in your face, as though you are in Dan and Diana's house rather than in a theatre. On a more mundane level, first row allows you to hear the performers' actual voices a bit and not just the amplification and also to appreciate the mechanics of putting together a song that goes from person to person and scene to scene, as the actors go up and down stairs, move furniture, and clean up messes, all in character. The excellent Michael Berry was on for J. Robert Spencer. He plays Dan as a warmer, more loving person, which I liked a lot.

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