Monday, June 01, 2009
Next to Normal Revisited
Next to Normal opened on Broadway on April 15 to mostly positive reviews. The main theme in the reviews was that the problems from the off-Broadway production at Second Stage had been addressed, so I decided to give the show another chance. While it is true that the show has improved, it still suffers from a number of problems.
Most of the worst scenes were cut from the show, the electric shock therapy number, the Costco meltdown, and it definitely feels as if the writers finally decided to believe in the material rather than undercut it with misplaced humor. However, the show still relies to heavily on unnecessary gimmicks. *Warning: Spoilers about key plot twists to follow.* A key element in the show is that Diana refuses to acknowledge the death of Gabe, who died as a baby. For much of the first act, though he only interacts with her, it is not explicitly stated that he is dead. When it is finally revealed, I heard a few gasps in the audience. I see no reason why the audience can't be aware that Gabe is dead early on in the show. An even bigger problem is that once Diana leaves Dan, her husband, he starts to see Gabe as well. We see him struggling with Gabe as Gabe tries to get his father to see him. Are we to believe that mental illness is contagious? There is no hint at mental illness in Dan prior to this. It is brought up in the show that Diana's symptoms (she suffers from bipolar disorder and anxiety) could have been brought about by trauma, which I think is believable if she was already predisposed to these conditions, but that didn't seem to be the case with Dan.
The score can be enjoyable in the way that certain pop songs are fun to listen to. "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," for example, is great for rocking out to on the subway, but as a whole the score does not serve the story well, mostly because of the lyrics, which are mostly expository.
J. Robert Spencer as Dan is a great addition to the cast and is more deserving of a Tony than the overrated Alice Ripley. She is very convincing in her role, but her voice is in bad shape, especially when compared to Jennifer Damiano, who plays her daughter, Natalie. Aaron Tveit has a fine voice, but talk that he was robbed of a Tony nomination is unfounded. He doesn't do that much besides sing and dance around the stage (some of the "musical staging" still makes me cringe). Gabe is not a fully developed character as he only exists as the perfect son to Diana and a torment to Dan.
It may seem like I'm out to get this musical, but that's not the case. If this show strikes a chord with people, great. I just hope that the critics and fans embracing the show so passionately, really believe it is that strong and are not just ignoring flaws because they want an original and adult musical to succeed.