Review: Next to Normal (Broadway in Chicago)

     
     

A harshly relevant, yet gloriously hopeful masterpiece

     
     

The cast of 'Next to Normal' - Clockwise from top: Curt Hansen, Jeremy Kushnier, Preston Sadleir, Emma Hunton, Asa Somers, and Alice Ripley

  
Broadway in Chicago presents
  
Next to Normal
  
Book/Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Michael Greif
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through May 8  | 
tickets: $32 – $95  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Last year, the Pulitzer Prize board took a look at the short list from the subcommittee that makes recommendations on who should win the coveted award for drama. The board tossed the recommendations out, and instead bestowed the Pulitzer on Next to Normal, a show that the recommending body didn’t even rate as a semi-finalist. In some circles, the decision was viewed as an autocratic move illustrating the limitations of an unchecked board. Others applauded the decision, overjoyed that a musical about mental illness had catapulted the difficult topic into the national spotlight. Revisiting Next to Normal for the second time in as many years, we’re more certain than ever that the Pulitzer went to the right people.

Alice Ripley and Curt Hansen in 'Next to Normal'.On paper, the show sounds like the worst idea for a musical since “Springtime for Hitler”. Next to Normal has no dance numbers to speak of, no chorus line of cute chorines, no happy ending. It is about a woman who has shock treatments. It is also about a family that has been devastated by tragedy, perhaps beyond repair. It is about doctors who admit that nobody really knows how to cure mental illness and that finding an effective treatment for mood disorders is like locating a silver thread in a huge, cloudy swamp. It is about the futility of stumbling blindly through ad lib regimes of SRO inhibitors, benzodiazepines, lithium, Prozac, Cymbalta, Zoloft, Seroquel, and an endless alphabet soup of other chemistry-altering pills whose side effects range from dizziness to death. Clearly, we’re not in Shuffle-off-to-Buffalo territory here.

Yet in a country where, year after year, suicides outnumber homicides, Next to Normal is about as relevant, compelling and urgently necessary as theater gets. It also benefits from composer Tom Kitt’s gorgeous score, Brian Yorkey’s smart, insightful lyrics and direction by Michael Greif that grabs your heart within the first 10 seconds and doesn’t let go until long after the final curtain call. Next to Normal is not an easy show: It confronts you relentlessly with the despair, absurdity and in-curability of mood disorders. But it is also gloriously hopeful as it shines a compassionate spotlight on a topic about which there is far too much ignorance.

And make no mistake – that ignorance is rampant. Consider the language of suicide: We say “Diana killed herself,” as if the act were a choice, a decision uninfluenced by the very real illness of depression. When people die of cancer, the disease is blamed. When people die of depression, the victims are blamed.

So much for background on the societal necessity of this particular show. This is theater, so the real question isn’t about its social value. It’s about whether it is any good. The answer is yes. With significant caveat. The cast for the touring production is mostly as good as the Broadway ensemble, but the player who falls outside that “mostly” is crucial.

     
Curt Hansen (Gabe), Alice Ripley (Diana) and Asa Somers (Dan) in Broadway in Chicago's 'Next to Normal' Emma Hunton as Natalie in the national tour of 'Next to Normal'.
Asa Somers as Dan in Broadway in Chicago's 'Next to Normal'. Preston Sadleir as Henry in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal" Curt Hansen as Gabe in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal"

Next to Normal is anchored by Alice Ripley, who won the Tony for her performance as Diana Goodman on Broadway. But Ripley’s voice is not what it was on Broadway a year ago. Performing this vocally demanding score eight times a week has taken a toll. She struggles significantly with both pitch and with diction. Crucial lyrics are muddy, soaring top notes falter painfully. Pivotal numbers – I Miss the Mountains, You Don’t Know, Didn’t I See This Movie – don’t get the clarity the plot needs or the musicality the score contains.

Acting, Ripley remains superb, capturing the highs, lows and utter absurdities of mood disorders with an accuracy that is both deeply moving and blackly hilarious. But Next to Normal demands a great vocalist as well as a great actress. Opening night at the Bank of America (Shubert) Theatre, Ripley simply wasn’t consistent in the former capacity.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Broadway in Chicago's "Next to Normal"Still – perhaps paradoxically – Next to Normal remains a four star, must-see show. The supporting cast is pitch perfect. As Diana’s struggling 16-year-old daughter, Emma Hunton is heart-breaking in her vulnerability and defensive anger. With the short, bittersweet “Everything Else”, she delivers an ode to the crystalline order of Mozart’s music, with a poignant wistfulness that’s as sad as it is beautiful. As Diana’s son Gabe, Curt Hansen is thrilling, at once alluring and menacing and positively electrifying on the rock-infused “I’m Alive.” As Diana’s husband, Asa Somers’ Dan, delivers both the all-but unbearable frustration that results when a loved one’s struggle with mental illness seems never ending and years of treatment prove to be of dubious value. And as Diana’s psychiatrist, Jeremy Kushnier deftly portrays both the expertise and the impotence of a science that is more guess work than anything.

Next to Normal remains a magnificent musical. But with Ripley no longer in prime voice, it isn’t as magnificent as it might be.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

The cast of "Next to Normal", now playing at the Bank of America Theatre in downtown Chicago. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

     

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Review: White Noise (Royal George and Whoopi Goldberg)

        
        

Though it doesn’t quite rock the hard place, it still rocks

  
  

MacKenzie Mauzy and the ensemble in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago.

  
Whoopi Goldberg presents
  
White Noise: a cautionary musical
  
Book by Matte O’Brien
Music/Lyrics by
Robert Morris, Steven Morris, Joe Shane
Directed and choreographed  by
Sergio Trujillo
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $50-$65  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Neo-Nazism, maybe now more than ever, is definitely a lonely philosophy, with both sides of the political spectrum trigger-happy to brand their opponents as followers of the Fuhrer. Unlike the more fashionable discrimination against Latinos, Muslims, and gays, wholesale white supremacy is not in vogue these days. White Noise, the new “cautionary musical” produced by Whoopi Goldberg, asks what would happen if subtle and coded racist rhetoric went viral? It’s already sort of happening over on 4Chan; in this way, Matte O’Brien’s book is screamingly relevant. He’s assisted by well-wrought, if often disturbing, songs and Sergio Trujillo’s snappy staging. However, by using tired Nazi philosophy Emily Padgett and MacKenzie Mauzy in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatreas its punching bag, White Noise fails to present a nuanced reflection on racism in today’s America—something we desperately need.

The events of the play were inspired by a little duo of white nationalists who formed a band called Prussian Blue. The two tween girls sang about race wars and crushes on skinheads, nearly immediately gaining the ire, and spotlight, of the national media. However, the pinnacle of Prussian Blue’s career was playing a state fair or two. The titular band in White Noise is sexier, more talented, and more marketable—singing their ciphered bigotry, they become YouTube darlings and put out a number one single.

One wonders how their repulsive beliefs are kept hidden from the media – something the show never explains. In fact, you aren’t really told much about how those beliefs came to be; there is never the searing indictment of inherited racism you find in American History X.

What we’re left with is the terrifically short rise and fall of White Noise, which is comprised of sisters Eva and Eden (Mackenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett), skinhead/bassist/Eva’s boyfriend Duke (Patrick Murney), and Jake (Eric William Morris), who’s slapped onto the band by record exec Max (Douglas Sills as a lukewarm Bobby Gould-lite) with the mission of repackaging the group. The show becomes a battle between the greed of the amoral Max and Duke’s desire to vocalize his disgusting views on a national platform. Eva and Eden are caught in the crossfire. Eden just writes the tunes; she’s never really that concerned with the message. Eva fully believes the stuff, but she’s also a capitalist.

This story is juxtaposed with Max and Jake’s attempts to repackage backpack rappers Dion (Wallace Smith) and Tyler (Rodney Hicks) as gangstas. It doesn’t help that the two’s original ideas are pretty lame (like a rap version of the Declaration of Independence – not kidding), lacking the intelligence of Lupe Fiasco or De La Soul. Against their will, Max turns them into Blood Brothers and Jake writes them a little tune called “N.G.S.,” a smash hit about N’s (think N.W.A.) shooting “white boys.” Obviously, Jake and Max are guilty of racist double-dipping, but Max could care less and Jake is concerned with making his career. The whole musical leads up to a giant concert featuring a double bill of White Noise and Blood Brothers. Needless to say, it doesn’t go down as smooth as “Ebony and Ivory.”

     
Eric Morris, Emily Padgett, MacKenzie Mauzy, Patrick Murney in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre
Rodney Hicks and Wallace Smith as the "BloodBrothas" in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. MacKenzie Mauzy and Emily Padgett in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre

Mauzy and Padgett give great performances and nail the musical numbers. Their tunes, penned by Robert Morris, Steven Morris, and Joe Shane, are legitimately catchy. Murney is chilling and Morris, who becomes the romantic lead in this tale, is decent. Max is a wannabe Mamet character who just isn’t quite ballsy enough, but Sills does the best he can.

I have to give props to this show – which has Broadway-level production design – for not shying away from the vile language. The show may be as blunt as Nazi propaganda. It presents racism in a polarized manner that doesn’t speak to the insidious, quieter racism that we see today. But White Noise still asks some relevant questions. The Hitler salute-inspired choreography in the video of White Noise’s hit single, “Mondays Suck,” inspire rounds of fan vids on YouTube, a la “Single Ladies.” At the end of the night, I was wondering how stupid all those kids must feel after they realize they posted videos of themselves goose-stepping.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Eric Morris, Emily Padgett, MacKenzie Mauzy, Patrick Murney in Whoopi Goldberg's 'White Noise' at the Royal George Theatre

White Noise: a cautionary musical continues at the Royal George Theatre through June 5th, with performances Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 5pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 5pm. Tickets are $49.50-$64.50, and can be purchased online or via the box office (312-988-9000). For more info, download the

.

All photos by Carol Rosegg

     

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Addams Family set to go through Revisions

“Revisions” for ‘Addams Family’ before Broadway run

The Addams Family
Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre

As the musical begins, there are storm clouds gathering over the Addams Family home. Wednesday is falling in love, and guess who's coming to dinner?

Synopsis:
In this original story, the famously macabre Addams Family is put to the test when outsiders come to dinner, hurling Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester, Grandmama and Lurch headlong into a night that will change the family forever.
Show Advisory:
None
Genre:
Musical
Cast List:
Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Terrence Mann, Carolee Carmello, Kevin Chamberlin, Jackie Hoffman, Zachary James, Adam Riegler, Wesley Taylor, and Krysta Rodriguez
Production Credits:
Direction and design by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch
Lighting design by Natasha Katz
Sound design by Acme Sound Partners
Puppetry by Basil Twist
Music direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Orchestrations by Larry Hochman
Dance arrangements by August Eriksmoen
Hair design by Tom Watson

Special effects design by Greg Meeh
Fight direction by Rick Sordelet
Heidi Miami Marshall will serve as associate director

Other Credits:
Lyrics by: Andrew Lippa
Music by: Andrew Lippa
Book by: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice The producers of Addams Family, set for a spring Broadway opening, have hired the Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks as a consultant for the $16.5 million production, attempting to revive the musical from its less-than-glowing reviews.

perhaps we were taking a little too much for granted assuming that the audience walks in with the relationship with the Addams family fully intact, and we didn’t appropriately reconnect the audience to the family members,” said producer Stuart Oken.

No one on the creative team has left the show or been fired, Mr. Oken said, with Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch still listed as the directors and production designers, and Mr. Zaks billed as creative consultant.

Mr. Zaks is close to Mr. Lane, having directed him in the long-running Broadway musical revivals of Guys and Dolls in 1992 and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1996, for which Mr. Lane won the Tony Award for best actor in a musical.

The musical’s lead producers, Stuart Oken and Roy Furman have admitted that the plot needed to focus more tightly on the Addams family members and that all roles, starting with Gomez (Nathan Lane) and Morticia (Bebe Neuwirth), needed their eccentric and subversive personalities clearly established in dialogue and song before the main action of the plot begins.

 

Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane 1

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REVIEW: “The Addams Family – The Musical”

Sizzling Cast – Lukewarm Story

(l-r) Adam Riegler, Jackie Hoffman, Krysta Rodriguez, Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth, Zachary James and Kevin Chamberlin. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Addams Family

Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Phelim McDermott & Julian Crouch
thru January 10th (ticket information)

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

Fair to snappy score, piffling to predictable story and characters of cartoon depth. That about sums up the much-anticipated new musical based on the mordantly brilliant cartoons of Charles Addams. And oh yes, multi-million dollar whiz bang production values and a cast comprised of some of the biggest stars known to the biz of show. Minus Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth – talents as brilliant in their fields as Addams Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane.  Photo by Joan Marcuswas in his – would The Addams Family musical be worthy of its pre-Broadway hype? We’d argue ‘no,’ but that argument’s probably beside the point.

With Lane and Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia Addams, the score and the book could be a creation of cringing mediocrity and nobody’d much notice. Lane can – and here, does – wrest belly laughs from jokes that would fall flatter than a week-old, lead-lined pancake if delivered by lesser lights. Neuwirth is his match as the slinky, femme-fatale mistress of the ooky-spooky mansion. With legs and hair that go from here ‘til eternity and a whiskey-and-velvet alto voice that screams “come hither” even when it says something completely different, she simply kills it as Morticia.

As for the story that contains these luminaries, think “You Can’t Take It With You” with ghosts and monsters. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book focuses on Wednesday Addams (Krysta Rodriguez, instilling Wednesday with a definite S & M flair) and her romance with the comparatively normal Lucas Beineke (Wesley Taylor, the clean-cut ‘M’ to Rodriguez’ domineering ‘S’). As in Kaufman and Hart’s depression-era classic, the romance is complicated by clashing parents. Lucas’s folks are prim, proper and repressed. The Addamses? Not so much.

Wackiness ensues when the buttoned-up Beinekes are confronted with the questionably alive Lurch (Zachary James, a literally towering presence whose basso profundo steals the show in the finale) upon entering the Addams’ Central Park manse. It ensues further as the Beinekes contend with lovesick sea-monsters, chairs that double as castration devices, saber-rattling ghosts and hosts and the shamelessly demonstrative lustful affection between Morticia and Gomez.

"The Addams Family" continues through Jan. 10 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Tickets are $28 - $105. For more information, go to www.broadwayinchicago.comAndrew Lippa’s score is colored throughout by Gomez’ Spanish ancestry. Its flamenco/tango stylings are serviceable, but in all, the music is more flash than depth. Curiously, the best songs don’t go to Lane or Neuwirth. The latter’s big number comes with “Second Banana”, an utterly forgettable lament about aging. Lane gets “Happy/Sad,” a second act crooner that is sweet but generic. It is Mrs. Bieneke (Carolee Carmello, a belter of deceptively mousy demeanor) who gets the Act I showstopper (“Waiting”) and Mr. Bieneke (Terrence Mann, in fine voice) who raises the roof and brings down the house in Act II with “In the Arms,” a hilarious ode to cephalopod love.

As for the big 11 O’Clock penultimate finale, that has more to do with swashbuckling spectacle and an all-hands-on-deck sword fight than with musical virtuosity. (Choreographer Sergio Trujillo draws a page from “Thriller” for much of the rest of the show, as a chorus of the dead engages in lively dances with gravestones. ) If you’re waiting for a star turn (a la The Producers “Betrayed”) that puts Lane’s incandescent leading man capabilities in the white-hot light they deserve, it never arrives. As far as the score is concerned, Lane’s role is oddly underwritten.

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Director/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch have crafted a show that looks thrilling and moves at a spirited clip. That’s all well and good – but hardly the stuff of a deserving Broadway blockbuster.

Fans of the 1960s “Addams Family” television series will find all the show’s deliciously macabre eccentricities in place. Cousin Itt makes an appearance. “Thing” is featured prominently. Fester (an infectiously gleeful Kevin Chamberlin) serves as both narrator and odd-man Greek chorus of sorts. Ukulele in hand, he gets some of the evening’s most creative special effects (and amusing choreography) in a free-floating love song to the moon. And as Grandma, Jackie Hoffman makes the mighty most of a small part, delivering the show’s best lines with a pitch-perfect irreverence that stops the show with every punchline.

For boomers who loved the finger-snapping show, The Addams Family is a must. Ditto for those who treasure any chance to see Lane and Neuwirth perform live. For the rest, there’s just not much there.

Rating: ★★★

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The Addams Family” continues through Jan. 10 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street. Tickets are $28 – $105. For more information, go to www.broadwayinchicago.com

View Addams Family - the Musical

"Addams Family – The Musical" – Nathan Lane, Bebe Neuwirth participate in first public reading

 

UPDATE: Read our review3 stars!!    review

 

bebeneuwirth nathanlane 

Wow – Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this same list of Broadway stars headline the pre-Broadway Chicago production?  And doesn’t Bebe Neuwirth seem like the perfect Morticia Addams? 

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Excerpts from the Playbill-Online article:

The cast of this developmental workshop includes Nathan Lane as Gomez, Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia, Kevin Chamberlin as Fester, Zachary James as Lurch, Mary Louise Burke as Grandmama, Terrence Mann, Jan Maxwell and more. As is often the case with readings and workshops, this does not necessarily reflect what the final production casting will be.

As previously announced, the musical will make its world premiere Nov. 13, 2009-Jan. 10, 2010, at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre in Chicago, prior to a spring 2010 launch on Broadway.

With a book by Marshall Brickman and partner Rick Elice (librettists of the 2006 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Jersey Boys) and music and lyrics by Drama Desk Award-winning composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party), the musical is wholly original and not based on Addams Family material from other media.

Produced by Elephant Eye Theatrical and Roy Furman, The Addams Family has direction and design by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the creators of Shockheaded Peter.

The Addams Family creative team also includes choreographer Sergio Trujillo, lighting designer Natasha Katz and musical director Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

For more information on the premiere engagement of The Addams Family, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.  Read the entire article here.

UPDATE: Addams Family opens in Chicago!!!

Cousin Itt coming to Broadway in Chicago!

A family shot of the popular 60's sitcom, "The Addams Family"Yep, you read right.  The creepy yet lovable Addams family is getting a musical of their own, courtesy of Broadway in Chicago.  Making its world premier here in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre (aka Ford Center for the Performing Arts), The Addams Family – A New Musical will begin its pre-Broadway run in November 2009.

Like many other Gen X-ers, I grew up watching “The Addams Family” after school, my favorite characters being mother Morticia and the oh-so-hairy gibberish-speaking Cousin Itt. (and, yes, being an avid crossword enthusiast, “Itt” is spelled with 2 t’s!).

Judging from the creative team, this show has a lot of promise: composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party), choreographer Sergio Trujillo (The Jersey Boys), and Olivier Award-winning director/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter). 

By the way, does anyone know what these original Addams Family actors are up to now?