Seeing Next to Normal with the new cast is, at least at first, a reverse "invasion of the body snatchers" experience. These people are saying the same words, singing the same songs, and following the same blocking, but they are not the Goodmans we've known for years. Aiii! And then there's the challenge of seeing anyone other than Alice Ripley as Diana; Ripley owns that role. However, really good writing thrives on different interpretations, and Next to Normal is really good writing. Alice Ripley's Diana was crazy, a needle stuck in the manic groove. Marin Mazzie's Diana is depressed, slow-moving, sadly aware of what she's missing and what her illness has cost her family. With Ripley, Next to Normal was the story of a woman unhinged. With Mazzie, Next to Normal is the story of a family trying to survive ("what doesn't kill me doesn't kill me"). Both interpretations are legitimate, both are compelling, both are heart-breaking. I still think that no one can touch Ripley's performance--it's a perfect melding of actor and role. But Mazzie comes in a close second, with a mature, thoughtful performance. And while Ripley's ravaged voice fit her interpretation of the role, Mazzie's gorgeous voice is a pleasure and a gift.
Brian d'Arcy James remains far and away the best Dan, although Jason Daniely's performance has improved quite a bit over time. Meghann Fahy does an unconvincing imitation of the excellent Jennifer Damiano as Natalie; however, her understudy MacKenzie Mauzy provides a unique and interesting take on the role (though she needs to be careful about her tendency toward overacting). Kyle Dean Massey is good as the brother, although not great, and original cast members Adam Chanler-Berat and Louis Hobson remain fresh and excellent. Hobson's character is often interrupted by bits of song, and he needs to seem as though he's just pausing to think. It's a particular skill and one he does well, which is important since he almost never gets to say two sentences straight through. And I appreciate the book, lyrics, and music even more every time I see the show (12 or 13 times at this point).