Jonathan Reid Gealt, Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, and an LPR extravaganza

While our pace of show-going has slowed a bit during the past month, Hillary and I have made it a priority to attend as many concerts for contemporary composers as possible. Which means quite a few visits to le Poisson Rouge. Which means we were super pumped to find out that we could kill two birds with one stone on February 7, when Jonathan Reid Gealt and Kerrigan and Lowdermilk held a dual CD release concert at the venue. (Note: two concerts = grounds for a lengthy post.) After negotiating a deal with the New Jersey Turnpike (to drive very safely, yet make excellent time from Point A to Point B), we arrived in the city just in time to catch the opening of Mr. Gealt's show at 7:00 and spend the next five hours in musical-theatre-geek heaven.

Mr. Gealt's debut album, "Thirteen Stories Down," was released back in December. We first picked it up to listen to a track sung by a favorite 'round these parts, Adam Chanler-Berat, but quickly fell in love with the entire CD. I mean, what's not to like? Cassie Levy lending her gorgeous voice to the pop-y "I Am Yours"? Natalie Weiss belting out what is arguably Mr. Gealt's best-known song, "Quiet"? Lauren Kennedy singing the whimsical and hilarious "Alex...You're Fine"? Or Carrie Manolakos, who seems to be everywhere these days (but certainly no complaints here!), on the soulful "No Reason at All"? Yup - move along, move along...nothing to dislike here.

Much to our satisfaction, Mr. Gealt's concert was mostly a live run-through of "Thirteen Stories Down," with the same band and many of the same performers. Dee Roscioli (of Wicked) certainly didn't hesitate to start the night off with a bang on "I Am Yours." Andrew Call stepped in to sing "I Won't Have to Anymore," the song performed on the album by Mr. Chanler-Berat, which was cool to hear after he totally blew us out of the water as St. Jimmy in American Idiot a month or so ago. Zak Resnick, who can be seen on this season of American Idol, joined with Stephanie Umoh to sing the nostalgically beautiful "Lessons Learned" (done by Will Chase and Kate Baldwin on the album). And in a moment of forced spontaneity, Mr. Gealt himself took the stage with Quentin Earl Darrington for "My Best Friend" when Tituss Burgess couldn't make it to the concert. (He was filming "30 Rock" it was kind of a valid excuse. 'Kay? Kay.) I also came away from his concert completely re-addicted to the syncopated strings in "Wanting," sung by Matt Doyle and Darius de Haas. Mr. Gealt seemed somewhat self-conscious in talking about his work throughout the night, but so, so proud to present it to the audience, and we were thrilled to be there.

Remember how I mentioned that Ms. Manolakos seems to be everywhere these days? Well, we really do mean everywhere. She can be heard on Will Van Dyke's "Chasing the Day" and Joey Contreras's "Love Me, Love Me Not" albums, in addition to Mr. Gealt's CD. She's also sung with Ryan Scott Oliver and has joined the cast of Joe Iconis's "Things to Ruin" for their upcoming concert series. And that night, she performed five total songs - "Quiet" and "No Reason at All" during Mr. Gealt's portion of the night, and Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's "In Between" with Nathan Tysen (a light, soaring song about spring which I love-love-LOVED) and "Two Strangers" (I think I still prefer this song with a trio of male voices, especially on the middle sections, but really enjoyed hearing the female version). She also sang "Quiet" a second time to plug Mr. Gealt's album during the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk show, while Kait Kerrigan, Brian Lowdermilk, and Jesse Ruben did an acoustic version of "Run Away With Me" during Mr. Gealt's show. Composers promoting other composers? We highly approve.

In between shows, we snagged our favorite table in the corner, and finally got to meet Kait and Brian! *waves* Awesome. (Warning: run-on sentence ahead.) It's such a privilege to actually meet the people who write songs that have an embarrassing play-count on your iTunes, who take the time to read the thoughts of their fans, and who genuinely seem like awesome, creative, and intelligent people. So. Yeah. That was cool.

The third stop on Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's "You Made This Tour," named for fans' contributions that enabled the production of their album, "Our First Mistake," differed from Mr. Gealt's show in that it featured a pretty wide mix of both songs from the album as well as others. As the opening number, "She The Best" was probably the most adorable five minutes of our lives; sung by young'uns Lewis Grosso, Aaron Bantum, and Sarah Safer, the song's lyrics were written by a ten-year-old boy and interpreted by the three performers with gusto and cuteness. From there on out, the night was filled with some of the most talented people we've ever heard singing amazing music. Good stuff.

Alysha Umphress followed up her performance of Mr. Gealt's "Lovable" from earlier in the evening by absolutely killing "I Drove You Home" in the best way possible. (Her post-song impersonation of Melissa Etheridge wasn't half bad either.) Finally getting to hear a stripped-down version "The Bad Years" live, sung by Jesse Ruben, was fantastic. A fairly new song called "The Fathers Ran Away" had an appropriately tribal-sounding beat, as it was written for Broadway in South Africa, and Rebecca Naomi Jones was appropriately fierce singing it. If there were windows in the downstairs room at LPR, Kate Shindle would have shattered them on "Not Her Way" from "Tales From The Bad Years," which made us even more excited to catch her in Wonderland this spring. Andy Mientus and Steven Booth covered the hilarious adventures (or not) of two friends in the infamous Sin City on "Vegas." (It involves someone named Miguel, denied permission to see Cirque du Soleil, strippers, a helicopter, and Celine Dion, among other things.) A last-minute change to the set list prompted "Taking My Sister (And Moving to China)/Will You Come With Me," a really heartfelt piano mashup of sorts sung by the two composers themselves, and to which Mr. Lowdermilk's sister contributed a few piano chords. Matt Doyle crooned away on "Sadie," another relatively new tune. And with "The Girl Who Drove Away," the first song in Kerrigan-Lowdermilk's original musical "The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown," the wonderful Laura Osnes was basically auditioning for the role of Sam right before our eyes.

Speaking of Sam Brown, Hillary and I had been flailing from the second we read that Meghann Fahy would be singing "Remember This," the show's gorgeous finale. We're crossing all our fingers and toes that she'll be involved in the show's production at Goodspeed this summer...because hearing her sing material from it live was just...yeah. Emotional and brilliant and major-flail-inducing.

The award for the most powerful vocal performance of the night goes to Katrina Rose Dideriksen for "Avalanche." There was a palpable excitement connecting the audience and performer from the second the song began, and I thought people were going to jump to their feet at its conclusion! Ms. Dideriksen has been a faithful member of the Joe Iconis's "Things to Ruin" family, and seeing her in the totally different context of Hairspray at Pittsburgh CLO last summer revealed that she brings out her fierce personality in anything she does; even so, I could hardly have anticipated her show-stopping performance of the night, and we hope she'll continue to work with Kerrigan-Lowdermilk!

Since I don't want this to turn into the Oscars (read: running nearly 45 minutes overtime and losing its steam by the end), we'll wrap things up with the three best moments of the night. Little description is necessary; viewing the YouTube videos immediately is required.

3. The Spring Standards performing "Berkeley."

2. Matt Doyle, Jesse Ruben, and The Spring Standards singing "Run Away With Me." (Yes, all at once. We didn't think it was possible to fit that much awesomeness on one stage either. Pay particular attention to 2:48, and then pick your jaw back up off the floor.)

1. Dee Roscioli leading the entire company in "Holding On." Absolutely one of my favorite Kerrigan-Lowdermilk songs focused on the simplicity of the mantra that "the world keeps turning, the light keeps shifting, and I keep holding on."

As for the future of these composers? You can catch Kerrigan-Lowdermilk at the Canal Room in New York tonight (Monday, February 28) as the openers for the second-ever concert, or back at le Poisson Rouge on March 27. And if you haven't bought your copies of "Thirteen Stories Down" and "Our First Mistake" yet...well...get on that now and we'll forgive you ;-)

(YouTube links for Mr. Gealt and Kerrigan-Lowdermilk can be found here and here, as well as littered throughout this post!)

Hillary's thoughts on the closing of "Next to Normal"

So I know it's been more then a month since Next to Normal closed on Broadway (I'll pause for a moment to allow you to shed a tear at that thought. All better? Okay.) and while I would love to say that the reason it took me so long to get this post up is because I needed that time to properly digest and process the closing of one of the greatest shows to ever be on Broadway, the truth is that life got super insane. And you know, sometimes life is insane, but crazy I know I can do (ha.ha. see what I did there?), so the insanity was a bit much. Luckily, life is currently less hectic, and so I present to you my thoughts on the closing of this incredible show.

Attending the closing of Next to Normal was my first time experiencing the energy of a final performance, and I was blown away by the awesome energy that was surrounding the Booth. Not that I was expecting anything less, but the amount of love being sent to the cast, crew, creative team, and basically everyone who ever had anything to do with this fantastic show was just off the charts. From the moment the pre-show announcement started, the energy in the theater was palpable. And then the music started, and the lights blacked out right at the awesome guitar riff during the intro and... the audience exploded with applause. It gave me serious chills. Everyone got HUGE entrance applause, so much that poor Kyle Dean Massey had to hold for like two minutes while awkwardly hanging off a pole. Whatever, he made it look damn good. The entire cast was, as per usual, completely on top of their game. Again, not like I was expecting anything less from the most stellar replacement cast ever, but it was a bonus to have them all in spectacular vocal and acting shape for the final performance. This show was kickass when it opened, and it stayed kickass until it closed thanks to its fantastic cast. As if it hasn't been made clear enough, Michelle and I love this cast so hardcore, and their performances at closing just reaffirmed every compliment we ever blogged.

As for the show itself, it is hard to put in to words exactly how incredible it was. The cast was emotional from the beginning, especially Meghann Fahy, who made her entrance looking like she had been sobbing backstage for the past twenty minutes (and still looking super pretty. Some things just aren't fair). They poured all of that emotion into the show, making an already emotional show even more painfully wonderful. Before the lights went down and the show started, I made a pact with myself that I would try my best not to cry like a baby during this show. The beginning of act I was all right... there was humor and Dr. Rockstar and a lot of epic belting (Mr. Massey busting out his incredible high note at the end of "I'm Alive" was made even more amazing by the fact that you could even hear it over the cheers and claps of the crowd). But then we got to "I Dreamed a Dance," and from there to intermission I was a tearful mess. Luckily, the cast was a tearful mess too, so I didn't feel out of place. The end of Act I is super sad and tear-inducing to begin with, but knowing that it was the last time I'd be seeing it performed on a Broadway stage just made it so much more intense.

And then it was intermission. Also known as "the fifteen minute period in which Michelle and Hillary met Tom Kitt and then freaked the fuck out." Seriously, y'all, meeting one half of the creative genius behind this show (and High Fidelity, and American Idiot, and Bring It On) has been on my bucket list forever, and finally getting to meet the man and thank him for such a beautiful show was an amazing moment.

Act II followed much in the way Act I did. I was fine for the beginning part (and by fine I mean not a sobbing mess). As further proof that you discover new, wondrous things about Next to Normal every time you see it, there was a beautiful moment between Diana and Natalie during "Better than Before" that I had never seen before. When Dan was showing Diana the mementos of their past and their family, Diana did not take her eyes off Natalie, and Natalie stared right back until one of them looked away. It was a beautifully subtle moment that really underscored the fractured relationship between Diana and Natalie, and it was great to be able to see it without tears blurring my vision. But then from "How Could I Ever Forget?" to the end of the show there were constant tears that reached a peak during "Maybe" because Meghann Fahy completely lost her tenuous control on her emotions and just openly shook with semi-repressed tears. Michelle covered the "but something next to normal might be okay" line beautifully, and for some reason I forgot that that line happened and that it would make me a sobbing mess, but you know what? I think Ms. Fahy did too. It was almost as if she got to the line, realized "oh crap!" and then had to force the words out past the massive lump in her throat. She absolutely killed me.

You know who else made my heart hurt in the best way possible? Adam Chanler-Berat. Given his heart-wrenching rendition of "Perfect for You (reprise)" when Jennifer Damiano left the show, I was expecting Mr. Chanler-Berat to struggle to get through the song at closing as well. He did, and it was heart-breakingly beautiful. Ms. Fahy was openly crying, and hearing Mr. Chanler-Berat's voice crack with emotion just drove home for me that this was it. The last time I would see this incredible show on Broadway. Even though I (and my bank account) had known that closing night was coming for months in advance, it still didn't really hit me until I was in the theater, in my seat, watching this show and thinking to myself, "oh my god this is it." And then I cried. A lot. But even then, "Light" refused to let me wallow in grief and sadness. It was as if the show itself was telling me and the rest of the audience that it would be okay, that when our long night was done (and we were done crying our eyes out), there would be light. As David Stone said in his wonderful closing speech, the show is still on tour, and the beauty of Next to Normal will continue to live on. Mr. Stone also gave a wonderful shout-out to Mr. Chanler-Berat, who has been with the show since it's run at Second Stage. It was a very touching moment, with the crowd once again rising to its feet to give a visibly moved Mr. Chanler-Berat a standing ovation.

And then after the show, Michelle and I met Brian Yorkey. "Hi, I'm Brian" has subsequently become our go-to phrase for every incredible thing that happens in our lives.

In closing of this outrageously long post, I just want to take a moment to say that this show has been such a part of my life for the past two years. The friends I have made because of this show (it was the first one Michelle and I ever saw together), the way this show touched my heart and soul with its unfailing emotional and powerful message, and the beauty it has given my life will never be forgotten. Thank you, Next to Normal, for being such an incredible piece of theater that has changed my life in small yet so significant ways.

Michelle's thoughts on the closing of "Next to Normal"

As promised, Hillary and I have finally gotten around to collecting our thoughts on Next to Normal's closing performance. We decided it would be best to write up separate blogs on the special occasion, and below is part one.

Michelle's thoughts:

It's been nearly three weeks since Next to Normal played its final performance on Broadway, and clearly we've been putting off writing this post. To be completely honest, I've been sitting in front of my laptop for the greater part of this evening, and I'm still not sure what to write about what I experienced on January 16th. I'd been trying to imagine what that last night in the Booth Theatre would be like ever since rumors about closing began to swirl back in September, since we felt confident enough about the news to buy our tickets in October, since the official announcement was released in November. As the holidays came and went, the reality of what was coming would set in and then fade out rather frequently. I'd listen to the cast recording, and come across lines like "Standing in this room and I wonder what comes now," or "I've been here for the show, every high, every low," or "When our long night is done, there will be light," and think about how poignant those moments would be as they were performed for the last time at the Booth. At the risk of sounding possessed, you should probably know that the first time Hillary and myself saw Next to Normal, back in April 2009, was the first time we'd traveled to the city together. It was the third time I'd ever been to the city on my own. We had made it to the end of our freshmen year of college, and although we'd gotten to know one another slightly during the course of the year, Next to Normal was the seal on the envelope of our friendship. Over the following 21 months, visiting the Booth became deeply intertwined with our lives. We'd coordinate our schedules to make repeat visits to the show together, to catch an understudy we'd wanted to see forever or just to experience the emotions the show made us feel again. (At one point, we tried to make a pact that would limit our return to the show. Yeah, that failed.) And I can't even quantify the amount of time we've spent discussing these characters, the colors of their costumes, the lighting, the way the lyrics overlap and ebb and flow, and the full-volume sing-alongs we've had on the drives back to Philadelphia after seeing the show. While we've been fortunate enough to see so many wonderful pieces of theater since the time that Next to Normal opened, this show has been a staple in our lives. It's never gotten old, and in my admittedly short-lived experience with the theater, that's rare.

So when I finally took my seat on the evening of the 16th, and the mere pre-show cell phone announcement prompted an explosion of applause and cheers, everything came rushing at me, all at once. There was raucous but appropriate entrance applause for each actor, and SO many tears throughout the night, but the celebratory mood for this little show that could definitely overshadowed the night's proceedings.

Following this show over the majority of its life on Broadway has allowed me the unique opportunity to watch it evolve over time. At one point during the first act, I thought to myself, "Wow, everyone sounds fantastic. They're on fire." But honestly, performances that I'd seen where everyone hadn't sounded fantastic, and where the cast hadn't been on fire, were few and far between. I think that's an enormous tribute to both book/music/lyrics and cast. So it was awesome to see six talented actors giving everything they had on that stage one last time, but even more satisfying to know that it wasn't anything out of the ordinary for them.

As for highlights of the final performance? Getting to experience the most emotionally-charged, two-and-a-half hours of theater I've ever sat through, by FAR, with my best friends, just a few rows behind where we sat the first time we saw the show. Jason Danieley receiving a round of applause for Dan's exasperated facial expression after Diana's line, "But my husband's waiting in the car." Watching Louis Hobson have the time of his life transforming into Dr. Rockstar one last time. Feeling the excitement build before "I'm Alive" and Kyle Dean Massey hitting the high note at the song's conclusion. Looking up at the set's second level as the doors swung open during "Why Stay?/A Promise" and nearly losing control of my emotions along with Meghann Fahy. Adam Chanler-Berat, who has been with the show for over three years, struggling through "Perfect For You" and "Hey #3," and then being acknowledged at curtain call by producer David Stone for his dedication to the show. The tension-filled laughter that resulted from Henry's line to Natalie, " came!" (Of course we all came.) Marin Mazzie singing, "It's time for me to go-," pausing to gaze around the theater before finishing, "And so...goodbye," and leaving the stage very, very slowly.

Having the unbelievable opportunity to speak with each of the show's creators, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, at intermission and following the curtain call, respectively, and trying to express some inkling of what their show has given me.

And arriving at the final crescendo in "Light." Soaking it all in. Panicking over how close we were to the end. Crying. Looking at each person on the stage of the Booth. Seeing Mr. Hobson break into a huge smile as he climbed to the set's second level. Watching Ms. Fahy cry. Hearing Mr. Danieley sing, "When our long night is done..." Feeling so lucky, so truly lucky to have this beautiful, beautiful show as a part of my life.

Yes, I've been attached to other shows before. I've felt sadness when other shows have closed. But I've never had the experience of being with a show since previews. Seeing its original cast intact. Watching cast members leave one at a time, or in pairs. Being completely blown away by new cast members. Solo concerts at Joe's Pub. Road-tripping to the city at all hours of the day and night, from two hours away or eight hours away, because we were a PART of this thing. Knowing this show inside and out. And being there on closing night with a lot of other people whose lives have been brightened by this piece in the same way ours have. The whole nine yards. And so, as it comes to an end, we look forward to seeing the next incarnation of the show on its first national tour, but I can't help but feel a void, because I'm not yet sure how to deal with something that's so final and illuminating and scary, in a way, and really, really hard. And no, this is not "the end of the world" by any means - I don't want to come across as one of those fans who seems to fall into absolute despair when "their" show ends - but it is the end of something. Something that's taught us, helped us through when life was tough, something that's become a part of our lives in so many ways, something very special to us.

And as for trying to predict which line would hit closest to home? It wasn't the one we expected. It was in the middle of the most heart-wrenching performance of "Maybe" I've ever seen, when Ms. Fahy got to, "I don't need a life that's normal - that's way too far away," and then paused, as she realized what she was about to sing, how it just summed everything up, that the show's arguably most cliched line morphed in an instant to the most touching moment of the night:
"But to normal
Would be okay.
Yeah, something next to normal-
That's the thing I'd like to try.
Close enough to normal
To get by."