Friday, May 15, 2009

next to normal (The SOB Review)

next to normal (The SOB Review) - Booth Theatre, New York, New York

***1/2 (out of ****)

Billy Elliot – The Musical may be the odds-on favorite to take home the Tony for Best Musical this year, but make no mistake that there’s a brooding dark horse in the race. With a fierce, electrifying direction from Michael Greif, Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s next to normal is giving the musical about the dancing boy(s) a run for its money.

next to normal is nothing if not atypical for Broadway musical fare, but in tackling mental illness and its continued social stigma head-on, the tuner ranks among the best I’ve seen all year. In a bravura performance deserving of a Tony, Alice Ripley portrays Diana, who on first blush seems like the quintessential housewife and mother of two.

But not everything is as it seems. It’s not long before Yorkey’s book descends into the personal hell Diana must endure and the scorching reverberations her deepening depression has on the rest of the family, including the heartbreaking J. Robert Spencer as her husband Dan, a haunting Aaron Tveit as her Gabe and the revelatory Jennifer Damiano as her daughter Natalie. The entire cast is exceptional.

Even if the score is at times a bit overwrought and it may appear (to some) that Yorkey’s inherent message is an outright rejection of psychiatry, as well as all drugs and treatments for depression (a notion I flatly reject given an eleventh hour endorsement from a surprising volunteer for treatment), next to normal marks a welcome if downright shocking departure for Broadway.

If you’re like me, it just may melt down into your heart.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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