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Next to Normal

The excellent Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley take over the lead roles in Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. logo
Kyle Dean Massey, Marin Mazzie, and Jason Danieley
in Next to Normal
(© Joan Marcus)
It may sound like stunt casting to have a real-life married couple perform the roles of the fictional -- and dysfunctional -- spouses in the Broadway musical Next to Normal, at the Booth Theatre. But when the actors in question are as talented and accomplished as Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, then it's also a very wise move. Not only are these two excellent in roles that were so memorably established by their theatrical predecessors in the parts, they make them distinctively their own.

Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this musical by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) centers on the Goodman family, who have been having a rough time of it since a tragic incident involving their son Gabe (Kyle Dean Massey) 17 years ago. As a direct result of what happened to her son, Diana (Mazzie) sought out psychiatric treatment, and has since been diagnosed as a bipolar depressive with delusional episodes, and undergone numerous drug treatments over the intervening years.

Mazzie has the biggest challenge within the show, partly because Alice Ripley walked off with every major award for her performance as Diana, including the Tony. Director Michael Greif has wisely not asked Mazzie for a carbon copy of Ripley's work, which has resulted in a performance that is less outwardly manic, but still every bit as moving.

Diana, in Mazzie's rendering, seems possessed of a keen awareness that she's fighting a losing battle with madness. There's fear in her eyes, and the other emotions that register on her face -- whether they be grief, confusion, sorrow, or anger -- have a Kabuki-like expressivity that is both larger than life and also fitting to the situation. She also nails the comedy of the part, most noticeably in her first session with Dr. Madden (Louis Hobson), whom Diana imagines as a rock star due to an offhand comment made by her husband.

As Dan Goodman, Danieley initially comes across as more reserved than either Brian d'Arcy James or J. Robert Spencer, who originated the role Off-Broadway and on Broadway, respectively. However, it soon becomes quite clear that Dan has so much bottled up inside that this outwardly cool façade has become a defense mechanism that he may no longer even be consciously aware of. And when the character finally lets his guard down towards the end of the show, the resulting flood of emotion feels positively cathartic.

Both performers are more than up to the musical's vocal demands, but emphasize the drama of the words even when the music takes them to soaring heights. For instance, Mazzie tackles her Act One solo, "I Miss the Mountains," as if she were performing a mini-play, making very specific choices and creating a clear narrative arc. At certain moments in the show, she's literally singing through her tears, to good effect. Danieley speak-sings a large portion of his lyrics, hitting all the right notes with his gorgeous tenor voice. It's not until his second act song, "A Promise," that we get to really hear him sing out fully, but the choice makes sense dramaturgically, and ably supports Dan's journey within the show.

The remaining cast members also do good work, with the entire acting company coming across as a tight ensemble unit. In particular, Massey has terrific chemistry with Mazzie, resulting in an appropriately discomforting Oedipal dynamic to their on-stage relationship. And while he doesn't knock out his big anthem, "I'm Alive" as forcefully as one might hope, his clarion falsetto in "There's a World" is positively chilling.

There's a wounded vulnerability to Meghann Fahy's performance as Natalie, Dan and Diana's troubled and neglected daughter, that makes you sympathize with her early on. The performer also connects well with Adam Chanler-Berat's Henry, and their characters' budding romance in the show is a nice counterpoint to Dan and Diana's dissolving marriage.

Chanler-Berat and Hobson are the only two performers from the original cast still with the production, and their work seems just as good as before, and in some segments, even stronger. The entire cast also harmonizes extremely well together, making Kitt's music sound absolutely terrific.

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