Not that Next to Normal has just come along. It celebrated its first birthday on The Broadway this week and added the Pulitzer Prize for Drama to its mantelpiece to sit alongside its Tony Award for Best Musical.
It was only last week the Whingers endured Polar Bears at the Donmar. But everyone was banging on about how we simply must see N2N and, well, really, you can’t have too much mental illness, can you?So come Thursday evening we trotted along to the Booth Theatre where the staff’s standard of officiousness was much lower than we have come to expect on The Broadway.
N2N is a modern, not-quite-rocky musical exploring the mental illness of wife and mother Diana (Alice Ripley), her attempts at recovery and the effects on her family.
We have to admit that we weren’t at all sure about this when it started – it looked perilously as though this might turn out to be one of those tedious, whiny, angst-ridden American family dramas in which we always have to fight the urge to get on the stage and slap all the characters in turn and tell them to pull themselves together (c.f. Serenading Louie).
But about 15 minutes in N2N delivers a delicious and very satisfying twist to the proceedings.
What follows is an intelligent, carefully written piece which held the Whingers’ attentions utterly (no mean feat).
Alice Ripley’s (left) performance is compelling and the Whingers don’t begrudge her one jot the Tony she earned for this role.
Her journey from mental hell and back is really quite moving and at no stage did either Whinger have the urge to get on stage and slap her. Indeed, they really were quite moved. And she can sing too.
This is not a show-tune show but there is enough variety in the music to keep it interesting (there’s even a Country & Western number) and the lyrics are smart and always rewarding.
But what most impressed the Whingers was the perfect sound balance. We could hear just about every word of every lyric which is NEVER the case in London (although, of course, that turns out to be a blessing more often than not. We’re thinking Wicked).
It’s all staged on an impressive three tier set which does lead to sightline problems if you’re sitting near the front, and forces the performers to perform dangerously close to the edge. But since the characters are close to the edge anyway perhaps this was an intended metaphor. Phil began to feel uneasy for the performers and suffered a strange vertigo transference, his disquiet peculiarly appropriate for the piece.
There is strong support from the small cast, particularly Kyle Dean Massey (right) as her son Gabe who is also very easy on the eye but shorter than you would think in real life. But that’s another story.