Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Next to Normal

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?"

4 comments:

Robyn O'Neill said...

Okay, I am admittedly obsessed with this show, so don't be offended when I say that I am shocked beyond belief that you didn't like this! I saw it last weekend, and yeah, Alice has been screaming eight shows a week for the past three years and it shows. (She sounded a lot better in New York.) But what she may lack vocally, she totally makes up for in the emotional delivery department. I would much rather see her in this role than someone who can sing it pretty.

(Of course, I would be happy to sing it pretty if someone would like to produce it locally.)

Anonymous said...

Ms. Ripley is not being replaced because she is being used as a marketing tool - when you throw the words "Tony winner" and "Broadway star" over a marquee, people flock to see it. Plus, she developed a sort of cult-following during her stint on Broadway in the show with people who totally fell in love with her character and her as an actress. The role has done serious and permanent damage to her voice, and the producers - and my guess, to an extent - Ms. Ripley herself - do not care. They're in this for the long haul, and as long as tickets are selling, the damage can keep on happening. And while the rest of us intelligent, normal, careful people see the situation differently - remember that show business is 10% show, and 90% business. It is sad that someone has done so much damage to their God-given talent, and no one has the courage to go "it's time to stop and give yourself a rest."

Dave T said...

Robyn I definitely liked it...but I was really hoping to LOVE it. And all of the elements were there for me to love it...except for the lead's voice. And for tickets starting at $65, I don't think it's being stingy to expect a lead who can act and sing.

And you know that if it were you cast in a production here, I'd be one of the first ones in line to see it!

Matthew K Miller said...

Your post makes me even more sympathetic to the conept that theater reviews must be candid, pragmatic and unabashedly honest of shows--no sugar coating if people are going to be spending chunks of money.

Reviewers, like Peter Marks (who I respect, nonetheless), will give this show a pass because it includes Alice Ripley, a Broadway brand name. (Charles McNulty did not, well sort of but that's a whole other megillah.) I don't find "too big to fail" an excuse for not pointing out palpable, head-pounding flaws in a show.

However, I completely empathize with your sentiments about Ms. Ripley's voice. I went Sunday, and for my ticket of $105 I would have expected better in this particular performance. But, it's rock-infused effusion of bare-boned family emotion left me wanting to see an encore nonetheless. I do hope, however, that her vocal chords are able to recover.

--Matt