Photo: Joan Marcus
This week I saw Alice Ripley in Next to Normal for the last time. Her performance has deepened and grown in the years since she first appeared in the significantly different earlier incarnation of Next to Normal at the Second Stage--and it was excellent to begin with. What hasn't changed is Ripley's 100% commitment to the part, every single performance. I've seen the show at least 11 times, and each time she has turned herself inside out to give us the full Diana Goodman, psyche, heart, blood, and guts. I don't anticipate seeing a performance like it ever again.
Three other comments: (1) The last few times I have seen Next to Normal, I have been struck by how this unusual and intense story is so well-anchored in the quotidian details of an average family's life: ties get tied, shoes get put on, meals get made, homework gets done. (2) The more I hear the lyrics, the more impressed I am by Brian Yorkey's work: "living on a latte and a prayer," "what doesn't kill me, doesn't kill me" (which was the more usual "what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger" in earlier versions of the show), and "you know I love you--I love you as much as I can" are just some of the excellent snippets, but to do his work justice would require quoting the whole show. (3) Brian d'Arcy James is Dan; J. Robert Spencer was just a thin, uninteresting placeholder. D'Arcy James' Dan is a caring complex man whose behaviors make sense. And d'Arcy James' vibrant and thrilling voice expresses Dan's deepest feelings in a way that Spencer's never even approached.