No show on Broadway right now makes as direct a grab for the heart — or wrings it as thoroughly — as "Next to Normal" does. This brave, breathtaking musical, which opened Wednesday night at the Booth Theater, focuses squarely on the pain that cripples the members of a suburban family, and never for a minute does it let you escape the anguish at the core of their lives.and goes on to compliment the "astounding central performance from Alice Ripley" that "promises to be the musical performance of the season" as well as the "songs...propelled by the same rock ’n’ roll jaggedness and vitality that animated Duncan Sheik's score for Spring Awakening."
I caught Next to Normal at a preview performance, where I found that it had its own ups and downs. There were some very stimulating, thought-provoking moments that shed light on the characters, utilized stagecraft to excellent effect, or simply worked incredibly well, like a scene between Ripley and Louis Hobson as a doctor.
But I also thought that aspects of the show could have used even more work than the creative team has already devoted to it. I wasn't entirely sold on the tri-level set, even though at times the staging made good use of it. I thought the makeup or costuming of the character Henry could have offered more of a clue—not a big one, just a little hint—of his pothead tendencies. Some of the lyrics fell flat, and the same could be said of a second-act goodbye scene that ought to have much more of an impact.
Still, the show's high points are as numerous and authentic as they are rare elsewhere on Broadway, inspiring hearty cheers as well as tears from audience members. And they can get you to think—about life and about the potential of musical theater. So, even though I didn't like the production as much as Brantley did, I still found it worthwhile.
AND BY THE WAY... Is something fishy going on at the box office of the Booth Theater, home to Next to Normal? I've heard of weird problems cropping up lately—so, for the moment, I would not recommend leaving tickets there to be picked up unless you want to risk what could be a disturbing, surreal experience.
BROADWAY.COM BONUS Thanks to Broadway.com, here's the Next to Normal song "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. The featured singer is Spring Awakening alum Jennifer Damiano, backed by Ripley and Aaron Tveit.