Pick up this week's Style for Mr. Griset's reviews of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Wait Until Dark." Time is running out on seeing "Wait" so don't....wait, that is, to get tickets.
I'm trying to think ahead -- looking forward to finally seeing DRS this week plus taking in some of SPARC's New Voices readings this weekend. But part of me is still stuck in this past weekend. See, my wife and son had talked up “Next to Normal” for months since they saw it in New York last summer. So I was giddy with anticipation when I took my seat in a Kennedy Center box (it was the back row of the box but still, I’d never seen a show at the Kennedy Center so it worked just fine for me). Just the N2N set is enough to peak your curiosity – it’s many levels and staircases giving it a modern, almost techno look.
The opening number (“Just Another Day”) didn’t disappoint – one of those openers in the classic musical mode that introduces most of the characters and their essential conflicts in an efficient but original manner. I was instantly impressed by Emma Hunton who plays the daughter Natalie and whose voice resonated clear and crystalline. All of the young performers were exceptional, propelled by a driving light-ish rock score.
But starting with the third song, “Who’s Crazy,” and really coming to the fore with “I Miss the Mountains,” there was something odd about lead actress Alice Ripley’s voice. At first, I just thought she had a weird pronunciation thing – an odd way of articulating specific words that I’ve since found out that others have commented on. But as the show continued, it became clearer that Ms. Ripley’s voice just wasn’t on par with the other singers in the cast. Again, there have been others on the Internets who have remarked on this situation with more depth and clarity than I really want to get into.
When the performance ended, I definitely had an appreciation for the power and originality of the show. There were many thrilling moments, most of them having to do with Ms. Hunton. As a parent, I felt a little weird to be identifying so completely with the teenage daughter and having little or no sympathy for the parents and a lot of that had to do with being annoying at Ms. Ripley for not singing better.
In the Washington Post review of the show, Peter Marks calls Ripley “tired.” In my opinion, that is an understatement. My somewhat stronger feelings on the matter are reflected in this review by Alice Kaderlan of the Seattle PI.
I'm a pretty easy-going guy and so, afterwards, I rationalized to myself that all things considered, it was a fine experience. I liked the music, I thought the story was challenging in many good ways, and there were some excellent performances. Perhaps more important, it was a good family outing spent traveling together, sharing conversation over some good food, and enjoying each other's company. But on another level I'm still sort of seething. I spent a whole day and a not-insignificant chunk of money to see a show that had a major defect in it. And it wasn't just that an artistic choice was made that somehow rubbed me the wrong way. There was/is a element in the show that is not working right. A colder, more pragmatic person would make the analogy that if a lighting instrument had burnt out during the course of a show, you'd replace it. Why hasn't someone made a similar replacement of the faulty piece of "Next to Normal?"