I ventured into Manhattan on a blizzardy day to see some Broadway shows that are closing in the coming weeks. January is always full of closings as shows attempt to cash in on the big Christmas week crowds and then get out of Dodge before the winter doldrums.
I quite liked the number from Next to Normal on the June 2009 Tony Awards show and decided I needed to see, it took only 18 months and a closing notice to get around to do it. In the end, instructive to see in the same week a show that won a Pulitzer Prize and lasted 700 performances with Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which lasted maybe 17 weeks. There are reasons.
For one, an emotional component. Next to Normal is about a family trying to deal with a mother's mental illness. She can't let go of the memories of a son who died young, to the extent that she has a hard time dealing with her daughter. The daughter is struggling to have a relationship with a boy she met at school within the context of a crazy mother who isn't there for her in the ways mothers of teen-age girls are supposed to be, and the father is struggling to keep things in the house on an even keel. Lots of emotional meat.
And more even than that. The mother's vision of the son is himself a character, and a very likable character at that. If the mother becomes "normal," she'll lose this presence in her life. The son is a temptress, a hunky male version of Lola from Damned Yankees, trying to cling to its/his existence by getting the mom to give him what he wants.
Better songs. Not hummable, but I feel like some Sondheim that I could start to find some that last with another go or two at the score via the cast album or repeat visit. Is it good or bad that I could sometimes see the rhyme coming? On the one hand, suggest this isn't quite as clever as the very best lyrics could be, on the other hand in mass entertainment there is something comforting about the familiar.
Given this good material, the cast knocks it out of the park. This isn't even the original cast, which won the Tony for the female lead. An actual husband and wife team of Marin Mazzie (maybe first saw her in Sondheim's Passion) and Jason Danieley have genuine chemistry on stage, not always a given (see Tom and Nicole in Far and Away).
But the revelation is Kyle Dean Massey as the son. I haven't seen as magnetic a stage performance as this in a few years, since watching Matthew Morrison command the Atlantic Theatre stage in 10 Million Miles. Morrison went on to take the lead role in Glee, I wonder what is in store for Massey... He's what every mother would want their son to be. Great looking, plays jazz band before school and football after. His performance is a work of art. A high wire act of the vulnerability in knowing that he disappears whenever the mother decides to let go of him, but also a cockiness that he'll never go anywhere. Just watch the way he pulls at his jacket, almost Travolta like, in one scene. But all the layers are there. He sings with passion and brio, in wonderful duets and triplets. I wanted him to go so badly because it wasn't good for mom to have this guy around, I wanted him on stage every minute.
One of the great things about the musical is that it satisfies all of this in the end, manages to send everyone home happy, but without being trite or saccharine in the process.
Benjamin Walker is good in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, but the star in the making should be Kyle Dean Massey.
Next to Normal closes on the 16th January. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey are the main creatives, and the production is directed by Michael Greif, whose many other credits include Rent.
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- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.