Next to Normal

About a month or so before I moved to the city for school, I read an article on BroadwayWorld about a new musical that would be playing at the New York Musical Theatre Festival that September. Seeing that the cast contained Anthony Rapp and Amy Spanger, I immediately e-mailed Kadey, who I'd met at orientation, asking if she'd go with me. She said yes. And that is where this began. 

I moved to New York on September 3rd, 2005. September 24th, 2005 I saw Feeling Electric at NYMF with Kadey, and another girl named Amanda. Time after time I can be quoted as having said the show changed my life. I remember every minute of the show, which at the time ran just under 3 hours. I cried for all but 20 minutes. It was new, exciting, emotional, powerful, and it blew me away. Even then. With no sets and scripts in hand. The cast for NYMF was, along with Amy Spanger as Diana and Anthony Rapp as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden, Joe Cassidy as Dan, Annaleigh Ashford as Natalaie, and Benjamin Schrader as Gabe. (The character of Henry didn't even exist at this point.) 

I'm still unable to really communicate as to how the show supposedly "changed my life." It was a tremendous performance to see my third week of living in the big bad city. I think it really did a lot to let me know it was where I belonged in a way. I was still finding my way around, still wondering if picking my life up from the people I loved and moving to this giant place was a good idea... and then I sat down in the theater, and was reminded exactly why I did it. Because theater can be that powerful and that real, and can make every hair on your body stand on end. I connected with the show on such a deeply human level, which is why I think it's so incredible. Mental illness aside, it's about a struggling family. It's about growing up. It's about letting go and moving on. Just seeing that theater like this can still be created only made me excited to be a part of it, more than I'd already been. Maybe it didn't change my life in any gigatic way, but it did help to reaffirm everything I was wavering on.

The show is now called Next to Normal. It now stars Alice Ripley, J. Robert Specer, Aaron, Tveit, Jennifer Damiano, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Louis Hobson. It's tighter, the plot flows more, the characters are more developed, the performances are all extraordinary, and the new music is just as good as the old and the cut. (Though, I have to say, I really miss what was once the title song, 'Feeling Electric'. But that just may be because I've listened to the bootleg of the NYMF performance so many times, I can't hear Act One ending any other way.)

Feeling Electric was one of the first things I saw when I started college. Next to Normal is now one of the last things I'll see why still in college. I could be ultra cheesy and say that the growth of the show parallels my own. But I won't, because that really doesn't make much sense if you pay any attention to it. But if I have to define any bookends for my college career, I'm happy that this show provides them. Because it always stayed with me, even in the gap between it's NYMF production in September of 2005 and it's 2ST production last January. I had the bootleg, I had every image of the show etched into my brain from the minute I left the theater. And, can't forget to mention, I'm singing 'I Miss the Mountains' for showcase... and it's so fitting.

I'm ecstatic to see the following the show has gathered since then. And part of me almost feels connected to the show on some other level than just being a fan. Maybe because I've always held it so close to me. I feel like I watched it grow. And I'm really happy with the final product. It's beautiful and heart wrenching, and Alice Ripley is a total revelation. (TONY. Please. Thank you.)

I think that's all the mumbo jumbo I'll type for now. I'm still trying to compose all my thoughts after seeing it this afternoon. It still hits me like a bus. Only with less physical pain... and less.... y'know, death.

And with that eloquent ending, I am finished.



    On April 20, 2009 at 9:25 AM Anonymous said...

    I went to the show Saturday night and was totally unprepared for the emotional reaction I had. As a stay-at-home mom with no history of mental illness, I can eerily relate to Diana's plight.

    On April 20, 2009 at 9:51 AM Anonymous said...

    There is something about this show. I saw it for the first time last year at 2S, knowing nothing more than it was about a family struggling with mental illness. I left feeling like someone had punched me in the gut--but in that good powerful-art way. I saw it again last week on Bway and it still overwhelms me. I come from a family that suffered a loss like the Goodman's and somehow this show gets it all so right. I connect with it as both the child of that family and as a mom myself. It's simply brilliant, powerful, smart, and beautiful.


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