Nowhere Near Normal - Brian Justin Crum at Joe's Pub

While Hillary and I have had some incredible theatrical experiences over the past two years, some of our very favorite nights have been spent in New York's intimate concert venues, listening to actors we admire take a break from the show they perform eight times a week and sing a different and more personal repertoire of music. Our love of Next to Normal has prompted several of these visits to Joe's Pub; in the past, we've been fortunate enough to attend the debut solo shows of Jennifer Damiano & Adam Chanler-Berat and Louis Hobson, and had a grand old time listening to hilarious and sometimes heart-wrenching stories and hearing fantastic tunes from each.

But this week, it was Brian Justin Crum's turn to take the stage. Mr. Crum became the swing for both Henry and Gabe last spring when Tim Young departed Next to Normal. We both saw him go on for Henry at least a few times, and loved the sweetness of personality and voice that he brought to the role. We literally did everything in our power to catch him as Gabe, but sadly, it seemed that every time we found out he was going on, we were at home on break for various holidays, and completely unable to get to the city in time without paying [insert large amount of money here] for a flight to LaGuardia. Fail.

But honestly? After attending Mr. Crum's concert, entitled "Nowhere Near Normal," I regret not seeing him as Gabe even more...but I can't possibly imagine that even that role allowed him to showcase his voice in all the ways he did at Joe's Pub. Holy. Cow. When the Joe's Pub website billed him as "one of Broadway's most exciting new and versatile tenors"...I mean, Hillary and I knew he had an amazing voice, but WOW. He was PHENOMENAL. We were totally blown away. My jaw was resting comfortably on the floor the entire way through his hour-long set.

There was a moment in the middle of the show when Mr. Crum would begin a song, and I would think to myself, "Wow, he's picking all my favorite songs tonight!" And then he'd move on to the next one, and I'd think, "Wait, no, he really IS picking all my favorite songs!" From opening with Sara Bareilles' driving "Uncharted" and later doing justice to her "Breathe Again" with a gorgeous falsetto, Mr. Crum's choice of 15 unique songs alternated between soulful, totally kickass, and the "realm of the Broadway."

All of Mr. Crum's guest stars were incredible - Donna Vivino took the stage for a medley of Stephen Schwartz songs that included "As Long As You're Mine" from Wicked; the incomparable Tituss Burgess joined him to sing "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife; and Mr. Schwartz himself accompanied the singers on piano for the medley of his songs as well as a personal favorite of mine, "Lost in the Wilderness" from Children of Eden. But Mr. Crum showed no sign of nervousness on stage, and his level of comfort and willingness to have fun with the crowd helped him completely command the night in the midst of so many talented people. And basically, when you sound just as fierce singing a Whitney Houston song ("I'm Your Baby Tonight") as you do belting out a Stephen Schwartz classic ("Lost in the Wilderness"), you deserve that respect. Seriously.

As for highlights of the night? Totally rocking renditions of Marc Broussard's "Rock Steady" and especially Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" are pretty high up on the list, for sure. Hearing Mr. Crum sing "How Glory Goes," from Floyd Collins, after hearing Mr. Chanler-Berat do the same song at Joe's Pub last February. Hearing "Faithfully" after falling in love with the video of Mr. Crum performing the song last summer at Next to Normal's concert for Broadway Impact. A hilarious song called "Wall Lovin'," written by a composing team that we love, Carner and Gregor, served up a catchy tune and quirky lyrics. The previously mentioned Schwartz medley that featured "In Whatever Time We Have" and "As Long As You're Mine" was marvelous and made us really, really hope that Mr. Crum, who made his professional debut as a universal swing in various productions of Wicked, will one day get a chance to perform the role of Fiyero on Broadway. I had never heard "Meadowlark" before, but just when I thought Mr. Crum and Mr. Burgess couldn't belt any higher...they did. Gary Jules' "Mad World" showed off Mr. Crum's ability to capture the audience with such a sensitive song. And "The Power of Love" (Huey Lewis) and Mariah Carey's "You'll Always Be My Baby" were fabulous throwbacks to the 80s and 90s, complete with Starr Busby, Felicia Boswell, and Mykal Kilgore singing backup.

Realizing at one point that our table was sandwiched between Stephen Schwartz, Jessica Phillips, and Sam Carner was pretty cool, too.

In summary, we'd like to send an urgent message to the casting directors of the theater world: please cast this boy in something immediately! I've always believed that actors who begin their careers by swinging multiple characters in a show are some of the most talented people in the business, and Mr. Crum is the epitome of this opinion. With such a versatile voice, a charismatic personality, and the ability to rock out one minute and bust out legit Broadway vocals the next, Mr. Crum has such as bright future ahead of him, and we could not be more excited to see what new projects he takes on.

Our First Mistake-The Songs of Kait Kerrigan & Brian Lowdermilk

Out of all the contemporary musical theatre albums that have been released recently, I think it's safe to say that Hillary and I were most excited for Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's Our First Mistake. Actually, "excited" doesn't even begin to cover it. What other musical writer/composer duo would inspire me to run back from class (literally) to Hillary's apartment upon hearing the news that her autographed hard copy of the newly minted album had finally arrived in the mail? (Yes, I felt dumb. And yes, my lungs felt like they were going to disintegrate, thanks to the frigid temperatures. But did feeling like an idiot for ten minutes and temporarily not being able to breathe compare to the euphoria of finally popping that CD into our computers and pressing PLAY? Of course not.)

Their fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, which began last September, was appropriately titled "Help Kerrigan-Lowdermilk Make the Best Album Ever" and raised over $35,000 to put together Kait and Brian's debut album. It not only includes some of the best songwriting out in the stratosphere today, but also some of the most crazy-talented artists we've ever heard! Seriously. And what's more, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's songs are just as accessible to musical theater people as they are to pop music people.

We've plugged them. We've seen several of their songs performed in concert. (And are eagerly awaiting their dual CD release show at le Poisson Rouge in February, along with Jonathan Reid Gealt!) We've listened to an excessive number of YouTube videos of their songs. And now we finally have an official album that takes everything we love about the way these songs sound live, and translates them perfectly - PERFECTLY - to a recording. And we think that's pretty great.

Due to our level of borderline obsession with Our First Mistake, supported by our iTunes playcounts and the fact we've had this album for less than a week, we thought it would only be appropriate to give you, our readers, a rundown of each of the album's ten glorious tracks. Because then you'll have even more reason to head over to iTunes, Sh-K-Boom, Amazon, or your local music store to pick up a copy. Actually, you should anyways. And while you're at it, buy an extra copy for your best friend. And your Great Aunt Sue. And your dog. Yeah.

1. "Say the Word" - Vienna Teng
To quote Kait and Brian's first video on Kickstarter, Vienna Teng is an indie pop darling! Our only previous exposure to her was as a performer at Kerrigan & Lowdermilk's "Under the Influence" show at Birdland last March. But while we love the version of "Say the Word" on the Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown demo, sung by the fabulous Meghann Fahy, this recording captures all the beauty of the lyrics and melody perfectly, and serves as a perfect example of how the duo's songs fit snuggly into the context of both theater and pop.

2. "Five and a Half Minutes" - Katie Thompson
What to say about this track, except to praise Ms. Thompson's voice!! It sounds exactly like every live recording and YouTube video we've ever seen of it. It sounds so ridiculously good. In a recent interview with Ms. Kerrigan, she was asked to recount a story from her childhood that explained who she was as a writer and a person. When you listen to the song, I think you'll see part of her response contained in the lyrics:

I guess the reason that story comes to mind because I get really stuck on things I don't understand, things I can't name. Honestly, it doesn't even matter if I name it incorrectly. The naming of it, making something feel like it makes sense, is all that matters. And that's sort of what writing is for me.
It's one of my absolute favorite K-L songs, and I'm so glad they put it on the album.

3. "Run Away With Me" - Michael Arden
Everyone who ever sings this song always sounds incredible. (Matt Doyle, Aaron Tveit, and Joshua Henry, just to name a few.) And Michael Arden is no exception. After relying on YouTube for so long to hear his version, it's SO GREAT to have an actual recording. He brought a new interpretation with his phrasing, and it was just as cramazing as every other version we've heard. Also, we would like to submit some peeps for consideration to sing this song in the future. Adam Chanler-Berat. Jay A. Johnson. Kyle Dean Massey. Brian Justin Crum. Will Chase. Make it happen, friends.

4. "Not a Love Story" - Kelli O'Hara
Remember that time Hillary held the door open for Ms. O'Hara at le Poisson Rouge? Yeah. So do we. Again, this sounds exactly like it did live. Ms. O'Hara has one of the most beautiful, clear voices we have ever heard and it sounds incredible on this recording. Nothing but praise for this track. It's one of the ones I've had to put on repeat and soak in a few times in a row.

5. "Last Week's Alcohol" - Matt Doyle
This song. We love this song. (See a common pattern yet?) It's the only one on the album that K-L really beefed up and added a lot to, and it was an excellent choice. The new bass line and techno flavor (or, "German techno beat" - aha...) are awesome.

6. "My Heart is Split" - Laura Osnes and Meghann Fahy
Laura Osnes. Meghann Fahy. Need we say more? We do? Okay then. Gorgeous voices. We've listened so many times to try and figure out who sings what. Laura Osnes has first verse. Meghann has second and into the bridge, but by the end we don't know who has melody and who has harmony, but IT DOESN'T MATTER. This song is amazing. It makes us wish dearly that we could play the guitar (well), and that the Spring Standards would cover this song (see track 10). The lyrics perfectly encapsulate everything Hillary and I felt when we transitioned to college; hell, it's how we still feel now. I adore this song.

7. "How to Return Home" - Natalie Weiss
We think there's probably a reason that Ms. Weiss is featured on EVERYONE'S albums these days. For an indication of why, just listen to this song. Um... her voice is crazy good, and she doesn't even sound like she's straining to belt her face off. Gorgeous. Another song that encapsulates those ever-present feelings of change between who we were before we came to college and who we are becoming.

8. "Two Strangers" - Morgan Karr, Matt Doyle, and Jay A. Johnson
Okay. THIS might be our absolute favorite track on the entire album. Even though it's totally impossible to pick a favorite. But from the second we first watched this video from K-L's Birdland concert, we were hooked. And then we heard the song live at the New Musical launch concert last spring...and somehow became even more hooked. Three of our favorite male performers, singing a RIDICULOUSLY amazing really doesn't get any better than this, folks. Morgan Karr's voice (and diction) is nuts. Be sure to turn up the volume all the way for the first 12 seconds of the track to get the full effect of the driving strings section.

9. "A Mistake" - Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk
This beautiful piano interlude is just over a minute long, but it shows so much personality and the depth of what this album must mean to K-L. It includes the themes from "Last Week's Alcohol" but trails off in several other directions as well, and I'm curious to know the premise behind including it on the album.

10. "Run Away With Me" - The Spring Standards
As we arrive at the final track, is it evident yet how much we completely adore this collection of beautiful songs?! We're not quite sure how the universe collided, introduced two of our favorite and most respected groups of musicians, and allowed them to collaborate, but that's what happened when the Spring Standards first performed "Run Away With Me" at the aforementioned Birdland concert that we somehow did not/could not attend. Wah-wah. But seriously, any question of why the same song was recorded twice for the album should be thrown right out the window into the ever-growing amount of snow outside. It's a combination of all the best things in life. It's such a kickass version of one of our favorite K-L songs. (I know, I know, we already picked, like, a million favorite songs.) Love.

Lyrics for all of these songs can be found here!

How about: this show f#*%!&@ rocks

I meant to write this post so long ago, but with classes restarting and Next to Normal closing (*sob*) and me being lazy like an old French whore (Je suis whore), this review got left by the wayside. Suffice to say, [title of show] at the George Street Playhouse was so [title of show]. (If you didn't get either of those references, please do yourself a favor, get the cast recording, and listen to it. All will be revealed.) This small, intimate theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey was the perfect place to see [title of show]. Although I was first exposed to the show many moons ago thanks to its awesome cast album and the fabulous YouTube series "The [title of show] show," this was my first time seeing the show live, and, having wanted to see it since I was unable to during its lamentably brief Broadway run, it did not disappoint.

Now, I know some of you may be wondering, what is [title of show]? Well, to quote the epically awesome Susan Blackwell, the original Susan in the production, "[title of show] is a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical." If that seems at all meta-physical to you, you're on the right track. It's a bit hard to explain, but [title of show] essentially chronicles its own creation, from the first idea to the time it opened on Broadway. It documents the struggles its creators, Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell (played in this production by Seth Rudetsky and Tyler Maynard, respectively), faced while trying to create an original musical. The show also features their co-stars in the show, Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell, portrayed by Lauren Kennedy and Susan Mosher (see how confusing this can get?) The show is littered with inside theater jokes and references, many of which were not grasped by the majority of the (elderly) audience Michelle and I were a part of. Did that stop us from laughing so hard we almost peed our pants? No, no it did not. [title of show] is smart theater, and even if Hunter Bell was robbed of a much deserved Tony Award for Best Book back in 2009 (losing to Billy Elliot, no less: what the hell?), the show is still as sharp as it was back when it opened in 2008. Sure, some of the references may have changed to make the show more relevant for the average theater goer and to help the show stay current, but that didn't make any of the musical numbers or dialog any less hilarious.

The cast was pure gold. Seth Rudetsky, perhaps best known for his Sirius radio show "Seth's Big Fat Broadway", Obsessed! with Seth Rudetsky, and his numerous deconstructions of showtunes, was hilariously dry and sarcastic as Jeff. He and Tyler Maynard were very convincing as friends trying to create an original musical, and Mr. Maynard was especially good playing the blank paper in the number "An Original Musical," which bemoans the difficulty of getting an original piece on Broadway while simultaneously poking fun at the numerous jukebox musicals and shows derived from books and movies that are so numerous on the Great White Way. Lauren Kennedy was wonderful, and she belted her face off on "A Way Back to Then," which has always been one of my favorite numbers from the show. Susan Mosher, though, stole the show for me. Her voice is uncannily similar to that of Susan Blackwell, her comedic timing was incredible, and even her physicality was similar to that of Ms. Blackwell's, right down to a nose that would certainly be able to take Heidi's in a cage match of noses (I mean absolutely no disrespect or offense towards either Ms. Blackwell's or Ms. Mosher's noses. The similarities between the two women are just simply uncanny.)  

I spent the entirety of the show with a smile on my face. If I wasn't laughing at the many jokes made at the expense of many other Broadway musicals, I was laughing at the witty dialog between the characters or their ridiculous antics. The entire cast had great chemistry together; it was easy to believe that they were a group of four friends who were struggling to write a musical. There were also a few musical numbers and pieces of dialog that were not on the cast recording, such as "Change It, Don't Change It" and "Awkward Photo Shoot," and it was a thrill to finally see the show as a complete product as opposed to just laughing every time I listened to the cast recording.

I think part of what makes [title of show] such an enjoyable and accessible piece of theater is that it is a simple, highly entertaining musical. It relies on catchy, witty songs and well-written dialog to tell the story. It doesn't need enormous sets or flashy lighting; it uses smart writing and great singing to tell its story and connect with the audience. Unlike some of the current shows on Broadway that rely on spectacle to fill the seats, [title of show] used simplicity to be successful, and I think that is an ethos other shows (and directors) would do well to take note of (yes, Julie Taymor, I'm talking to you. Is Spider-man ever going to open?)

Who says four chairs and a keyboard can't make a musical? Not this girl, for sure.

Chasing the Day - The Music of Will Van Dyke

Alright: first things first. This past Sunday, Hillary and I attended the final Broadway performance of Next to Normal. Amidst a flood of memories and tears (...we're actually not exaggerating...), the evening was perfect in every way. Simply perfect. We're pretty sure that most readers have probably picked up on our love of the show by this point, and therefore have some idea of how emotional the night was for us...and hopefully won't be upset when we say that we're going to need a few more days to process everything. Check back soon for a semi-coherent string of both our thoughts from the evening.

And now, for something completely different. (Points to anyone who picks up that reference. You have great comedic taste.) Despite the emotional hangovers that we woke up with on Monday morning, Hillary and I were glad to be able to occupy our minds with happier thoughts by attending Will Van Dyke's CD release concert at le Poisson Rouge, held in honor of his debut album entitled Chasing the Day - The Music of Will Van Dyke. With so many contemporary composers putting out albums these days (seriously - the iTunes gift cards we each received for Christmas could not have arrived at a better time!), our iPods are overflowing with new music, and we want to do a post showcasing each album and its composer(s). Last night's concert at LPR serves as the perfect starting point for our new project.

Mr. Van Dyke is a composer and lyricist who currently plays keyboards in the pit of The Addams Family. Our first exposure to his work occurred last April, when we heard Matt Doyle sing "Marie and Me" at Joe's Pub. Of course, anything that Mr. Doyle sings is made of gold, but we also loved song's delicate arrangement, the way it progressed with a driving purpose, and its candid lyrics about a boy who couldn't let go of the love of his life, and couldn't wait to hear more of Mr. Van Dyke's work. Last night, the composer himself, who played piano throughout, sang the first song of the evening before Alex Brightman performed the track, which he also recorded for the CD. The entire concert was a wonderful mix of songs from Chasing the Day, some performed by the same person as the album track and some performed by others, as well as several new songs we had not heard before. Celisse Henderson's rendition of "If You Only Knew" was an emotional highlight for sure; Mr. Doyle, who was up next with "Settle," even acknowledged how touched he was by the performance before beginning his own number. Katie Gassert rocked one of my favorite tracks from the album, "The Lighter Side," which encapsulates the overwhelming feelings of falling for a lover (or a friend, for that matter) and wanting to experience the world with them. Pauline Pisano, a friend of Mr. Van Dyke's from middle school, showed off her edgy, belt-y voice on "Why You Hold My Hand," arguably out-performing her recording on the album with sheer vocal power. And while we're big fans of Adam Kantor's sound on the CD version of "Gateway," Morgan Karr more than did the song justice with his beautiful, airy voice and super-fierce falsetto. While we had never heard of her prior to listening to "Come Home," Carrie Manolakos, who was most recently seen in Mamma Mia, is most definitely one of our new favorite voices, with a rich, expressive tone and general ability to belt her face off. And Alex Goley and Lindsay Mendez joined Mr. Doyle to perform two songs new to us between them - "I Want You to Know Me," a clever duet between two budding lovers struggling to get to know each other, and "When I Run This Town." Ms. Mendez also sang "Fly Away Gone," performed by Stephanie J. Block on the album.

To end the night, Katie Rose Clarke (Broadway's current Glinda) performed the "artsy" "Truth, Beauty, and Love" before Mr. Karr returned for an encore; the number, called "Starting Over" (thanks, Liz!) was probably my favorite new song of the night. It was an upbeat way to end an evening filled with so many beautiful songs about looking back on a moment frozen in time, and finding yourself in the present moment. There were several other hilarious and uplifting performances, though - Jay A. Johnson's "The Very Worst Year," for one, about learning to survive the hurt of life throughout childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood ("My fear of cows and Judy Blume were kind of weird...I persevered and I lived"), as well as John Eric Parker's "Life Times," about an unexpected, optimistic future ("If you can play, then you can grow/If you can learn, then you will know/That's loving life; now don't let it go.")

As we watched Mr. Van Dyke rock out at the piano and revel in his accomplishments thus far, I could only think of another young, energetic composer who wanted nothing more than to share his music with the world. It's beyond exciting to us to see musical theater writers spreading their wings beyond the stereotypical show by writing musical photographs of so many different characters, as well as giving the actors who perform their work more chances to showcase their talents. So congratulations to you, Mr. Van Dyke - you've gained more than a few fans who have been listening to your debut album obsessively, and can't wait to hear what you write next!

Check out Chasing the Day - The Music of Will Van Dyke on iTunes, and visit his website here! You can also watch videos from the concert here (also thanks to Liz!).

Alabanza, In The Heights

(Photo credit:

Last night, In The Heights played its final performance on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

While Hillary and I did not attend the final show, we had purchased our tickets for the show's third-to-last performance, on Saturday night, a few months ago, with the knowledge that Lin-Manuel Miranda would be returning to reprise his original role of Usnavi. Mr. Miranda just happens to be one of the most unbelievably talented people on Broadway - after writing the earliest draft of In The Heights while still in college, he won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Original Score of a Musical, and the show itself was named the Best Musical of the year. And while every actor who has played the character of Usnavi throughout the show's run has been wonderful, there is an unexplainable magic in watching the man who wrote the show perform in the central role.

I had been fortunate enough to catch Mr. Miranda back in December 2008, before his original departure from the show, and could not wait for Hillary to see him as well as the rest of the Broadway cast, including Chris Jackson (Benny), Andrea Burns (Daniela), Priscilla Lopez (Camila), Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia), and Seth Stewart (Grafitti Pete), all original company members who had either stayed for the show's entire run or returned to the closing cast. I had also seen Marcy Harriell (Vanessa) and Shaun Taylor-Corbett (Sonny) in the show before. And although Hillary had only seen the tour cast up until this weekend, she had been raving to me about Arielle Jacobs (Nina) for a year. Literally. So our mutual excitement to finally see the show one last time overtook any sadness we felt at the show's imminent closing as we waited in line to get to our seats.

As soon as the lights dimmed and Graffiti Pete entered the stage to spray-paint Usnavi's bodega, it was clear that the performance was going to be electric. The show was entirely sold out, and rarely have I been part of an audience that was collectively so enthusiastic and so respectful at the same time. The give-and-take of energy between cast and audience was amazing and palpable. The entrance applause for Mr. Miranda easily lasted an entire minute, and nearly every principal character got entrance applause as well. But in the midst of such an appreciative audience, it was exciting to realize that there were plenty of people in the audience who had never seen the show before. There were large, audible gasps at several turning points in the show, such as Abuela revealing that she has won the lottery ticket, Kevin telling off Camila with the announcement that the family's car service business is in his name, and Nina appearing on the balcony with Benny at the beginning of the second act. We both were touched that even as the lights go out on Washington Heights in the show's Broadway home, the messages of In The Heights are still spreading to new audiences.

From our seats in the rear mezzanine, we were able to take in Andy Blankenbuehler's stunning choreography, especially during "96,000" and "Blackout." The transitions between scenes and the way the ensemble moves around the stage, often using slow-motion movements that are accented with Howell Binkley's lighting, are just incredible.

And the show itself? It's not enough to say that the closing cast of In The Heights was as close to perfect as it gets. Tony Chiroldes as Kevin and Ruben Florez as Piragua Guy, both understudies for the evening, were terrific. All of the original and long-time cast members mentioned above were terrific. Ms. Merediz brought down the house with "Paciencia Y Fe." The trio of salon girls, played by Ms. Burns, Ms. Harriell, and Courtney Reed were hilarious in "No Me Diga." Arielle Jacobs was terrific. We had originally worried that her Nina might look too young against Mr. Jackson's Benny, but our fears were proved untrue; her GORGEOUS voice is very mature-sounding, and the fact that she actually looks like a college freshmen, the age of her character, both played in her favor wonderfully. One of our favorite parts of her performance was the way she threw her arms around as she delivered the line, "As I walked home from Senior Studies, I'd see you rappin' with your buddies" to Benny in "When You're Home." And "Everything I Know," especially in the context of the show's closing, was heartbreaking as the character of Nina acknowledged how one special person, or one special show, can affect so many lives in such a dynamic way.

And as for Mr. Miranda....there are really no words to describe the way he goes about performing the show and the words he wrote. His Usnavi is filled with the eagerness, dorkiness ("Oh, snap! Who's that?! Don't touch me, I'm too hot, yes!"), and determination that the character personifies. He is a joy to watch, and the sight of him stepping to the front of the stage to rap the final section of the show - "Yeah, I'm a streetlight chillin' in the heat, I illuminate the stories of the people in the street" - is one of the top moments in theater that I've ever witnessed, period. To be able to meet Mr. Miranda at the stage door, after he graciously spent nearly an hour working his way through the large crowd of fans (he apologized to US for waiting so patiently in the, WHAT!?), was a complete honor. As he choked out the line, "You did this last night? There goes my flight," leading into the end of the show's "Finale," it finally hit me that this was it - truly, in the words of Sonny, the end of an era.

In The Heights means an awful lot to many people I know. On a personal note, it was the fourth show I ever saw on Broadway, more than two and a half years ago. Its marquee always been there on 46th Street, and it will be very, very strange to see another show in the Richard Rodgers (Robin Williams' Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is the next tenant). But while its wildly successful Broadway run has ended, In The Heights lives on for another few months in its first national tour, and Mr. Miranda rapped in his closing night speech,
"And I know how upset some of y'all are gettin', but listen, In The Heights ain't closing, this is spreading! And yeah, I'm up here up on this lectern, but one day you'll be somewhere Midwestern, somewhere chillin' in some out-of-theater lobby, some little high-schooler's gonna be playin' Usnavi!"
In his opening night review back in March 2008, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood described In The Heights as a "singular new sensation" and "anything but generic," and these descriptions could not be more accurate. In The Heights will be sorely missed on Broadway. It hurt my heart to watch the energy, passion, and heart onstage Saturday night and know that the life of the show in that state would be over so soon. But there is no doubt that Mr. Miranda and crew have changed Broadway forever with their little musical that highlighted the vibrancy and joy of a community, helped us to learn the true importance of family, and taught us how to find home.

Adam Kantor galore - and more!

We've been meaning to write another post on Next to Normal for a while now. What more is there to say about a show that we've blogged about several times (see: Jessica Phillips as Diana, Mr. Bobby Spencer's last weekend with the show, our first time seeing the new cast, our first time seeing Meghann Fahy as Natalie, and Louis Hobson's show at Joe's Pub) and seen many more times, you might ask? Well...a lot. An awful lot. That's the thing that keeps us going back to the Booth time after time, you see (that's directed at you, Mom). But before I get too deeply sentimental over the fact that the Broadway production will close in two short weeks (don't despair, that will get an entire weepy post of its own), here are some highlights from each of the times we took our seats in the Booth this semester.

- The beginning of finals week. Reading day. A tweet from Mr. Adam Kantor, a vacation swing for the show and an actor you may know from playing the final Mark in Rent, informing us that he would be going on as Henry that evening. One of these things does not belong, right? Wrong. We had just enough time to teleport hop in the car and get the city to catch Mr. Kantor's fourth - and final - performance with the show. Having seen both Adam Chanler-Berat and Brian Crum in the role of Henry before, Mr. Kantor stood out as the least "dense" of all the Henrys we've witnessed - he definitely could have gotten into Yale with Natalie. His voice also blended extremely well with the rest of the cast, particularly Jason Danieley on "Why Stay/A Promise" and Meghann Fahy on each of the "Hey"s. During "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," the look on Henry's face as Diana sang the hurtful line, "I love much as I can" to Natalie was both heartbreaking and empowering - it was as if Diana's statement completely affirmed Henry's mission to be there for Natalie, no matter what. We also loved the way he choked up at the beginning of "Hey #3." His exuberant finger-pointing at Natalie on " came!" differentiated the scene from the way Mr. Chanler-Berat and Mr. Crum perform it, but with the same hilarious and aw-inducing results. And when he sang "...'cause crazy IS perfect, and fucked up IS perfect," it really tied his feelings for Natalie back to his reaction in "Superboy." It was an absolute pleasure to see Mr. Kantor's performance, and we were happy to talk with him at the stage door and see how much he appreciated the support.

- The dynamic between so many cast members is simply phenomenal. Kyle Dean Massey and Marin Mazzie share so many beautiful little moments as Gabe and Diana; she fawns over him like the proudest mother in the world, especially during "I Dreamed a Dance," and the fact that she can't feel that way about Natalie is heartbreaking. With Jason Danieley and Meghann Fahy as Dan and Natalie, you really get the sense that they are a father-daughter team within the Goodman family. Even a simple moment during "Better Than Before" when the pair shares some kind of inside joke shows that they have each other's backs. I've also thought a lot lately about Dan acting as Natalie's protector (for instance, after "I've Been," *SPOILER* he hides the bucket of bloody water behind his back so she can't see it, and in "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," Dan hears Diana say, "I love much as I can" to Natalie, and it hurts him deeply). But during "How Could I Ever Forget," when Dan sings about how each doctor failed to diagnose Gabe, you can see Gabe silently pleading, "But you're my DAD - YOU were supposed to protect me!" A heart-wrenching contrast.

- Even the chemistry between Louis Hobson as the Doctors and Ms. Mazzie truly brings out the best in each actor's performance - both the look on Mr. Hobson's face as Ms. Mazzie is "walking" down the stairs in "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling," and his reaction to Diana's proclamation that he is "not a scary rockstar anymore," are priceless.

- When this week's BroadwaySecrets were posted, Hillary immediately texted me to ask if I had submitted one. I had not, in fact, but whoever made this secret perfectly summed up the way we feel about Mr. Danieley's line delivery in the middle of "I Am The One":

- I'm also a fan of the way Mr. Danieley emphasizes the last "I am" in "I Am The One (Reprise)." So powerful.

- Even though we couldn't be more thrilled to catch so many understudies and different takes on each character, it was really great to see Mr. Chanler-Berat back as Henry towards the end of December. I had missed his lead-in to "Perfect for You," when Mr. Chanler-Berat's Henry is the only one to respond to Natalie's line, "You're stoned," with an emphatic nod of the head. Ha.

- After several times watching Kyle Dean Massey during "Just Another Day," I finally confirmed with him that Gabe does, in fact, pull a pack of cigarettes out of his backpack as he gets ready for the day. (Apparently, they are real, and must be replaced every so often so the tabacco doesn't fly everywhere. Who knew.) We thought this was SUPER interesting, because "Just Another Day" is the one time when Gabe is his own person, and not an image of how any of the other characters see him. And in that moment, he chooses to rebel, to be less than perfect.

- Over the past year and a half, Hillary and I may or may not have spent hours analyzing the use of colors in the show...and we may or may not have compiled a chart comparing the costume colors of each character throughout the entire show. Whoops. One of the moments that has always left us mystified is lighting designer Kevin Adams' use of yellow light during only a few isolated points in the show, namely "Catch Me I'm Falling" (on "I'm some Christopher Columbus, sailing out into my mind...") and "Didn't I See This Movie" (on "I'm no sociopath, I'm no Sylvia Plath..."). But we've finally come to the revelation that the yellow lighting takes place during times when Diana experiences fleeting moments of mental clarity, especially as opposed to songs like "You Don't Know/I Am The One" where the stage is lit in deep reds and blues, and Diana is acting on her manic depressive cycles and emotions alone.

- As "I Am The One (Reprise)" begins, it's recently begun to occur to me that maybe Gabe's ultimate mission in haunting Diana is to drive her to leave, so that he can be left alone with Dan and finally be acknowledged by his father. What do you think?

- One week, while waiting in line in the box office for my ticket, I struck up a conversation with the man in front of me who put the thoughts that Hillary and I have been having about the role of Diana into words perfectly. He had seen the show several times, with both the original cast and the replacement cast.

Man: I hate to say it, but- *raises clasped hands to the ceiling* -Sorry, Alice, but Marin is simply fabulous."

In a span of four months since we first saw her performance, Ms. Mazzie has BECOME Diana. She makes different acting choices every time we go, and she cries more and more every time we go, and she's figured out how to tackle the challenging score night after night without damaging her voice, and it's fantastic. She's really come into the role and made it her own.

- Which brings me to the final point of this monstrous post - the current happenings at the Booth Theatre are proof that a replacement cast can be just as good as, if not better than, the originals, even if this is a rare finding in today's environment where stunt casting often overshadows the show itself as it looks to maintain ticket sales. Every member of the current cast - even the two who have been with the show for its entire Broadway run, if not longer - have made the characters their own and kept the show fresh while not losing its powerful themes. We think this can be attributed to the incredible talents of the cast as well as the quality of the show's material and writing. The way in which Hillary and I continue to find poignance in Next to Normal and discover new aspects of its characters, songs, and dialogue after countless viewings is really beyond words, and not something that just any show today can claim.

In all likelihood, our next post about this show we hold so dear to our hearts will come following its closing performance on January 16. Neither of us are ready for what that Sunday will be like, but we'll be there, showing our support, love, and deep, deep gratitude for the once-in-a-lifetime experience we've been through with this show. What more is there to say? If you haven't seen Next to Normal on Broadway, GO. If you have seen Next to Normal on Broadway before, GO AGAIN. (If you can't get to New York, make sure to catch the tour as it criss-crosses North America!) Next to Normal, the little show that could, is going out at the top of its game, and you simply cannot miss it.