Next To Normal

Surveying the prevailing state of Broadway musicals, one could get the impression that originality is in short supply. Faced with rising costs in a troubled economy, many producers have attempted to lure audiences with comfortably familiar revivals of crowd-pleasing favorites or easily recognizable pop-culture adaptations. Whatever the respective merits of such productions, an overall lack of originality seems to define the contemporary musical scene. For this reason alone, Next to Normal should be cause for celebration. The collaborative effort of Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), the piece received an inauspicious off-Broadway debut in 2008, garnering a wildly mixed reception. After taking some time for retooling, however, the play returned as an unlikely Broadway success, eliciting uniformly rave reviews en route to numerous Tony Awards, not to mention the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A refreshingly original rock musical, Next to Normal keenly observes a family torn by bipolar disorder and the struggle to communicate. With a talented cast including the return of Alice Ripley to the lead role of Diana Goodman (a portrayal that earned Ripley the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical), the play aims to redirect the contemporary musical from the realms of nostalgic diversion by presenting a story that emphatically connects with the fraught complexity of modern families. (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sun., May 15, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Starts: May 10. Continues through May 22, 2011

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The cast performances are stellar, except for Ripley. I don't know what happened to her. I went back and watched her Tony Awards show performance and it was nothing like what I saw this month at the Ordway. One critique I read likened her to "a donkey braying, affecting an Irish brogue." So true. I couldn't have said it better myself. She is a very talented actress, but her singing has morphed into something strange. Her head voice is still fairly clear and pure, but her chest voice becomes some weird moaning and she her consonants are nasally and pronounced as if she does not speak English fluently. It's the weirdest thing. Bad habit? Adopting a signature singing style? I don't know, but I'd like to see it again when her understudy is on. Sad.


Sadly, Alice Ripley's disasterous voice ruins what could have been a spectacular show. The rest of the cast is terrific. Don't waste your money unless Diana is replaced.

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