NEXT TO NORMAL, a rare and gutsy musical starring TONY Winner Alice Ripley, (who I loved in SIDE SHOW), set up shop for a week in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre.
I am still amazed at how brave it was for composer Tom Kitt and writer/lyricist Brian Yorkey to sell this show to potential investors. Imagine this: "So, we've written a new show with music about a woman's struggle with terrible and chronic depression and the terrible toll it takes on her family. Are you in or out?"
Hmmm.....this concept actually sounds like material from my Annual Family Reunion.
Prozac or Prosecco?
Really, songs about pills and suicide usually don't play to the matinee crowd. In fact, at the intermission of the performance I attended, I heard a woman say, "This is so dark. I liked JERSEY BOYS better." See what I mean?
My initial concern at knowing that actress Pearl Sun, the Standby for the lead character Diana, was filling in for Alice Ripley was quickly erased by her ferocious performance and solid vocal technique.
Apparently, Alice Ripley hurt her knee at the start of the Chicago run. Also, I have to believe that the vocally-demanding role for an actress on stage almost the entire 2 hours isn't the best medicine for an aching body.
Ms. Ripley's absence did not affect my affection for this show. I kept thinking that it was like watching a staged memoir of a wounded soldier, trying to express what post-traumatic-stress syndrome is like. But, he can never quite explain it with just the right words -- only live it and feel it.
The wounds are deep, the music is sharp and the lyrics are telling and funny.
Gosh, even though I love a good Frankie Valli tune, I applaud the audience who showed their appreciation for a stellar production and talented cast.
Also, it's about time we get some gut-wrenching songs about how hard it is to find the right meds AND the right shrink!