Thursday, November 26, 2009

Next to Normal

photo: Joan Marcus

I recently revisited Next to Normal for the first time since seeing an early preview Off-Broadway at Second Stage. At that time, I was one of the show's few detractors, finding the book nearly non-existent, the lyrics clumsy, and the overall message unenlightened and potentially harmful. In the nearly two years between that first visit and the second, my opinion about the tenor of the musical hasn't necessarily changed, but my feelings about the material and the performances have certainly deepened. Though her voice has unquestionably eroded from singing this rock score eight times a week, Alice Ripley's performance is still a marvel; her Diana is probably the most multi-layered musical theatre creation since Tonya Pinkins' Caroline Thibodeaux, and her Tony win was richly deserved. Jennifer Damiano, too, has grown immensely as Natalie: she has turned a character that I once viewed as nothing more than a petulant teen into a deeply emotional young woman. All of the changes to the score--which include replacing the laughable "Everything" with the arresting "Maybe (Next to Normal)" and inserting a duet for Natalie and Diana, "Wish I Were Here," at the top of Act Two--improve the flow of the show greatly. While I cannot fully say that I'm completely on board (the show still has some deeply disturbing tone issues), I left the Booth with a newfound respect for nearly everyone involved.

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