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.
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.
"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.
- 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 you...as 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 "Hey...you 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 you...as 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.