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, "Hey....you 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 something...next 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."


Linda Z said...

It is so wonderful to know that other people have been as affected and touched by this play as I have. I first saw it at the Arena Theater,
and was totally blown away.
It has been rewarding to witness the success this brilliant, ground-breaking play has garnered.
I just saw it in SF at the Curran, and it was gratifying to see other fine actors and actresses carrying on these great roles.
Watching this play grow,develop, and succeed has been a magical experience.

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