The new cast of "Next to Normal" - it's gonna be good... again

One of the reasons Michelle and I were so eager to get back to school and, therefore, back to New York City, was so that we could revisit the magic of the Booth Theatre and Next to Normal for the [number redacted for fear of incredulous disbelief and serious eye rolling] time, now with new cast members and real-life married couple Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley as Diana and Dan Goodman, and Meghann Fahy taking over for Jennifer Damiano as Natalie Goodman. It is a rarity to have a replacement cast be just as good as the original, and yet all reviews we had read indicated that this was, in fact, the case. We were so incredibly excited to see the new cast, particularly Meghann Fahy because, despite having been the understudy for Natalie since the show opened, we had yet to see her go on. However, upon winning lotto tickets and entering the box office to purchase them, we read on the understudy board that Mackenzie Mauzy would be going on for Natalie in the place of Meghann Fahy. Our quest to see Ms. Fahy in the role continues, but rest assured we will one day be successful, and Ms. Mauzy was truly wonderful in her portrayal of the youngest Goodman.

But before I get more in depth with Ms. Mauzy's take on the role, I want to first address the two fine actors who play her parents, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley. Let's start with Ms. Mazzie, shall we? I had read so many wonderful things about her on message boards and in the New York Times review of the new cast, so I went into the show with high expectations for her performance. While I was impressed and enjoyed her portayal of Diana immensely, I was not as blown away with her performance as I was with Ms. Ripley's and especially Ms. Phillips'. Physically, Ms. Mazzie appears to be the love child of Alice Ripley and Sherie Rene Scott, both in looks and in the tone of her voice. She made some interesting choices in terms of belting notes or using her head voice, and each change brought a different interpretation to the line or song. Her Diana was also a more bitter, angry one than the one embodied by Ms. Ripley or Ms. Phillips. She seemed to be fed up with her illness and the way that it was controlling her life, but at the same time she seemed resigned to the fact that her illness was a permanent part of her life. She was like a ticking time bomb, a slow simmering volcano filled with repressed rage, and it wasn't until "Why Stay?/ A Promise" that her anger and frustration boiled over into an explosive performance. From that song until the end of the show was, in my mind, the strongest part of her performance. Honestly, I loved her voice and acting choices, but there was just one thing about Ms. Mazzie that I did not enjoy; however, it wasn't even really a part of her performance. It's just... she moves her lips and mouth when she's singing. Like a lot. And it was just kind of distracting. Still, I enjoyed her take on the role, and I look forward to seeing her perform again in the future.

As for Mr. Danieley, the only thing I can really say is that I was so incredibly moved by his performance. I haven't felt so much sympathy for the character of Dan since Bobby Spencer was in the role. Besides having an absolutely incredible voice, his depiction of Dan was that of one man's slow descent into despair. His Dan seemed very optimistic at the beginning of the show; he really seemed to believe that Diana's episode in the opening number really was "just a blip." Mr. Danieley's Dan was not as time tested or weary as previous incarnations of the character have been, and that made his struggle to fight Diana's illness and hold his family together all the more heart-wrenching. I really felt he was the consummate family man, trying to do right by his family no matter what the cost. He added so many small, touching moments to the show, particularly right before "Light," when Natalie comes home to find her father sitting alone, her mother having left them both. When Natalie asks her father if her mom has left, Dan replies with a tearful, "yes." What was so tear-jerking about Mr. Danieley was that he then followed that up with an even more tearful "I'm sorry" to his daughter as she sought to comfort him, as if he were apologizing not only for his wife's abandonment but also for his tears, for showing weakness in front of someone he is always supposed to be strong for. I found that moment to be so achingly real, and it really made me love his performance even more.

Last, but most certainly not least, Mackenzie Mauzy was an absolute gem as Natalie. It was the first time I had seen anyone other than Jenn Damiano in the role, and so I was a little unsure of what to expect. I thought it was going to be incredibly weird to see someone else in the role, but as it turns out, I was completely wrong. Ms. Mauzy embodied Natalie as if she had been playing the role for months instead of it being the third time she had actually gone on. She seemed to be very comfortable in the role, and whether that is a testament to her ability or to the fact that this cast meshes seamlessly together no matter who is playing what role, I can't say. What I can say is that I loved her take on Natalie. Whereas Jenn Damiano gave a more muted, even, and emotionally subdued performance, Ms. Mauzy's Natalie was more outwardly emotional, and displayed more of the "teen angst" befitting a sixteen year old girl. Vocally, she was stunning; perhaps a little sharp at times, but I'll just attribute that to residual nerves. But it was her acting that completely made me fall in love with her take on the character. I have always connected with Natalie as a character (not that I have any personal experience of familial mental illness, but I think dysfunctional families, in any capacity, is something that almost all people can relate to), probably because we are roughly the same age and she shares my tendency for snark and sarcasm. Ms. Mauzy brought all that sass to the forefront of Natalie's character, but she also displayed true sadness and frustration with her mother's condition. It is hard to pinpoint one line or part of her performance that really stood out for me acting wise - it was all strong. There was just something about her line delivery, and the inflection in the words, that really struck a chord with me. I feel truly lucky to have seen her go on for this role, as I know it is something I may not be able to experience again.

Having Ms. Mazzie and Mr. Danieley take over the roles of Diana and Dan, respectively, and seeing Ms. Mauzy as Natalie alongside her on-stage brother Kyle Dean Massey as Gabe, I was struck by how physically similar Dan and Gabe, and Diana and Natalie are. In the past, I have always found that the similarities were more between Diana and Gabe, and Dan and Natalie, and that made sense to me because of the similarities of their character and also because Gabe really was a part of Diana's fractured mind and soul. Seeing Gabe bear such a resemblance to his father underscored the rift between the two of them, and the same was true for Diana and her daughter. Whenever people question how I can see the same show so many times (yes, mom, I'm talking about you), I reply that I discover something new about the show every time. This is one of those things. My perception of the show and its characters were different this time than they had in the past purely because of the actors playing the roles, and I think that says a lot about the power and depth of this incredible piece of musical theater.

Lastly, and to sum up this epically long post, I just have to give a shout out to the cramazing new note Kyle Dean Massey reaches at the end of "I'm Alive." Michelle and I have always gotten chills when Mr. Massey belts out "Shine!" during the show's finale, but this note was so unexpected and it completely blew us away (Michelle actually turned to me and exclaimed "Holy shit!" when it happened. I, in turn, busted a gut trying to not to laugh while nodding my head in emphatic agreement. It was unreal.) Mr. Massey has a truly incredible voice, and he has completely taken over the role of Gabe and made it his own. I am never disappointed by his performance, or that of anyone else, and I am once again eagerly anticipating my return to the Booth.


Colleen said...

Thanks for posting! I'm a HUGE fan of MacKenzie
s and I love being able to read more about her stepping in.

Hillary D. said...

Believe me, it was our pleasure. Mackenzie was great in the role, and we're so glad we got the chance to see her.

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