I first saw Next to Normal with the original cast members in New York in 2009. It is a musical about a nuclear family with a bipolar mom dealing with her efforts to keep her family together while going through the treatments. Not your typical musical material, right? The New York Times called it “a brave, breathtaking musical… It is much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel-everything musical.” The musical won 3 Tony Awards in 2009, Best Actress (Alice Ripley), Best Original Score (over Elton John’s Billy Elliot!), and Best Orchestration.
The second I saw Ripley as Diana, I believed her. Her performance was riveting, emotional, and perfection in its imperfections. Her Tony win was very well deserved. Every single character in the musical (there are only 6 of them) is well rounded and believable. It was the most complete theatre experience for me. I cried, laughed, then cried again and in the end I was overwhelmed with emotions I never experience from watching a performance. It was my favorite theatre performance ever, and I’ve seen over 100 shows! So, when I heard that Ripley will be joining the touring cast, I bought my tickets right away.
I saw the show on Sunday and one of the first things I saw was that Ripley is sick and has been replaced by Pearl Sun. My heart skipped a beat. I was sooo disappointed! But I decided to embrace the change and see how this production unfolded. I know it is a HUGE undertaking to replace Diana but Pearl, girl, you really stole the show. She’s no Alice Ripley, don’t get me wrong, but I thought that her Diana was more fragile, less frantic, and a bit more controlled. It worked for me! Yes, it is a bit weird to see an Asian mother with a Caucasian father and two Caucasian children but it’s THEATRE, people! Use your imagination! Everybody else in the company was perfectly cast. Asa Somers was stoic as Dan, Curt Hansen was deliciously sexy and seductive as Gabe, Emma Hunton was full of angst as Natalie, Preston Sadleir was a star in the making, and Jeremy Kushnier was empathetic as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden. I think that because this show is so character driven, you just have to have the perfect cast (including the understudies) for the touring company. Also, Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey’s music & lyrics are too breathtakingly intricate and beautiful yet very difficult to perform so the cast must be super talented to sing the songs. I just can’t get it out of your head. They won the Pulitzer for drama and the last musical that won the prize was Rent in 1996. The show closed earlier this year on Broadway so this is your last chance to see it, especially with Ripley in the cast. Next to Normal is currently playing at 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA until March 13. Touring schedule is available on nexttonormal.com