Living a Normal Life
Real-life couple Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley discuss starring in the award-winning Broadway musical Next to Normal.
THEATERMANIA: Your interpretations of Diana and Dan are so different than your predecessors. Did you see their performances?
MARIN MAZZIE: Yes. We had to see the show at least once to see if we wanted to do it, then we saw it again to make sure, and then we watched it again a couple of times once we signed on, though we were mostly focusing on lighting and other technical issues. But ultimately, no one hired us to do cardboard performances of our predecessors. We both worked with our director Michael Grief extensively so we could reinvent this family's dynamic and approach it with our points of view.
TM: Did you both do any specific research for these roles?
MM: I did a lot of reading on mental illness, but I think what I really drew on is that this family has been dealing for 16 years with this woman who is bipolar and that you feel they're all really at this breaking point. And Diana is someone who is completely not able to control her own life, which is just as hard for her.
JASON DANIELEY: I drew on some personal experience; my mother had a brain tumor removed and she was not the same person after that, and I watched my father go through losing this woman who had been his childhood sweetheart. So it was good to have my own history to draw upon.
TM: Did you talk about the pluses and minuses of doing this show as a real-life married couple?
JD: I know some people thought it was just a rumor that we're married, but it's true, and we're both so grateful to David Stone, our producer, for thinking of us as a couple. Not every producer would be willing to do that. And we take great pride in being musical theater actors, both of whom have been working on our art for years, and these are great parts.
MM: I think this is a dream for us in every way. We've always wanted to do something this emotionally charged; we've actually talked for years about doing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? together. And in the truest sense, it's been a gift for me to have my life partner up there and able to hold me up as I -- as Diana -- fall apart on stage. It's so meaningful.
TM: Speaking of falling apart, you cry through most of the show, often while singing beautifully. What's your secret?
MM: Mucinex is my friend, but the tears come from living Diana's experience every night. There's this one scene where I'm dancing with the gorgeous Kyle Dean Massey, who plays my son, and there's all this stuff coming out of my nose and throat. Luckily, I've found places to blow my nose upstage where the audience can't see, or otherwise I'd be drowning. I think that with what has happened to Diana in her life are things you don't ever get over, and if a similar thing happened to any of us, we could cry every day.
TM: It's a very challenging score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. Are you enjoying taking it on?
MM: It's been really fun for me to sing; because it uses every part of my voice -- it just doesn't tax one part. And when I finally get to use my soprano, it is so much fun to finally unleash those Es and Fs.
JD: Tom constructed it very well, so no one person has to sing like five songs in a row by themselves. They really deserve all the awards they've received.
TM: What kind of audience reaction have you been getting?
MM: Well, we know every night the theater is full of fans of the show, and it's great to meet these people who have seen it numerous times. But lots of people who come to the stage door are not just seeing it for the first time, but it's their first Broadway show ever. I think it is so exciting that this emotional piece of theater is their first experience. I think it's going to set a high standard for them.
TM: What's the biggest adjustment or change for you two between doing this show and other Broadway shows?
MM: The biggest change is that we have Wednesdays off, which also means we have eight shows in a row -- and that is really hard and has taken getting used to. We really try to rest on our day off. As for the day-to-day, it's great that I can have between-show dinners with husband.
JD: I think I come home more wired and exhilarated than I have before, but in the morning, it's harder to get out of bed. I feel like I've hit this brick wall. The show is truly mentally exhausting.
JD: Well, I have this band, The Frontier Heroes, and starting sometime in September I'm going to try to do these monthly shows after our show -- down at 45 Bleecker -- to try to cultivate an audience for the band. It's really important for me to try to get my own music out there.