I have immoral friends. Really, I do. They told the waiters at Applebee's that it was my birthday just so they could get a free ice cream sundae. I had to sit through the embarrassment of having the waiters surround my table beating drums and singing like they were at a freaking be-in. But my immoral friends are my heroes. If it wasn't for them, I would have missed Next to Normal. I know now that not seeing this show would have been a huge mistake. Looking back, I cannot possibly believe that I hated it when I first saw it. Now, I'll venture to say that the show is practically perfect. If not, it's definitely one of the best shows I've ever seen.
We had to park five blocks away from the theatre, which meant we had to walk past Hair at the Hirschfeld to get to Next to Normal at the Booth. Berri and Lenora insisted upon singing Let the Sunshine In as we went by. I actually don't like that song that much. I don't care what anybody says. Hair's best song is Donna. "Once upon a lookin'-for-Donna-time..." Come on. It's so catchy. Anyway, once we got to the theatre I noticed Krysta Rodriguez sitting out front. I made the mistake of pointing her out to Lenora, and then basically had to physically restrain Lenora from going up and asking for an autograph. (She's a big In the Heights fan.)
Our seats were in the last row of the mezzanine. Honestly, they weren't bad. I could see everything. While we waited for the lights to go down, the three of us discussed our favorite Broadway performers. The conversation went something like this:
Berri: "Who's like your favorite actor?"
Lenora: "I love Sherie Renee Scott!"
Me: "Mine's Alice Ripley." (By this point I was so excited I was actually twitching.)
Berri: "Really? I like Idina Menzel."
*Sigh.* I have obviously failed as a friend. Anyway. Once the show started, I was not conscious of anything else that was going on around me. The theatre could have burned down and I would have kept my eyes locked on the stage. I don't think my back touched the back of the chair once. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I know that sounds so cliche, but it's true. I could tell everyone else was as into it as I was. When Diana had her breakdown on the floor at the end of Just Another Day, I literally saw everyone in the mezzanine lean forward. It was hilarious and encouraging at the same time.
The show was just breathtaking. At one point, during My Psychopharmacologist and I, I was tempted to turn to Berri and ask, "Are you freaking seeing this?!" I didn't though. That would have meant taking my eyes off the stage. But at the end of the song, she leaned over and said, "Oh, my God, this is so good so far."
The definite highlight of Act One was You Don't Know, where Diana rips into her husband for saying he knows what she's going through. "It just keeps on rushing at you/Day by day by day by day/You don't know/You don't know/What it's like to live that way." The image of Diana staring Dan down, daring him to come closer, was the most chilling, powerful stage gesture I have ever seen.
Once intermission came, the three of us just sat there in silence, still staring at the stage. When we did speak, it was in awed mumbles. Lenora complained how she didn't want there to be an intermission, but I was actually grateful. We were sitting in the last row of the mezzanine, and even we could feel the intensity rolling off the stage in waves. Intermission was a much-needed break from the constant emotional slaps and punches being hurled at us. I cannot imagine what it would have been like in the first row. But the best was yet to come.
Act Two was heartbreaking, choking, and terrifying. The scene that's pretty much been burned onto my memory was the one where Diana starts to remember her son. At one point, she screams at her husband, demanding to know what her baby's name was. When she screamed, "WHAT WAS HIS NAME?!" in a desperate, terrifying way, I found myself slapping my hand over my mouth and just repeating, "Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God..." It was the most perfect bit of acting that I have ever seen in my life. The two of them proceeded to fight over a music box, with Dan trying to wrestle it out of his wife's hands and ultimately hurling it to the ground, smashing it. All through that scene, I felt the overwhelming urge to run out of the theatre. I could hear Berri sobbing next to me.
At the end of the show, I felt breathless, giddy, and unable to move. I had to run after Berri and Lenora, who were desperate to get down to the stage door. When we finally got out to Shubert Alley, all three of us were laughing hysterically. There was no other way to process what we had just seen.
My stage door experience was a dizzy, surreal blur. I don't remember much of it, except that when Jenn Damiano came down the line she started babbling to me about Star Trek. I haven't seen Star Trek. I have no idea what you're talking about. Please just sign my Playbill and keep going. And, of course, I remember meeting Alice Ripley. I didn't freak out that bad, but I was a little rude. I regret that now, but I always get snippy when I'm nervous. It went something like this:
Alice: "Hi, guys!"
Berri: "We have your biggest fan right here."
Me: "I'm sorry, I told them not to tell you that-"
Alice: "Oh, really? You could friend me on Facebook!"
Me: "I don't do Facebook."
Alice: "Oh. Well, if you ever do..."
Me: "Maybe. Thanks. Have a good night."
It was awkward, but it was more fun than the last time I met her, when she was telling me about her SIDE SHOW days. I got some great advice that day. "When you spend eight hours a day spitting and sweating on each other you don't hang out after that." Words to live by. I'll keep that in mind if I ever play a Siamese twin.
After that, Lenora decided she wanted to "meet the hippies," so we made a mad dash down to the Hirschfeld, but thought better of it and turned back. When we made it back to Shubert Alley, we randomly met George Lopez. I used to be a huge fan of him and his show. I guess it was a pleasant if not ridiculously random meeting.
I took a picture by the Hair poster. Lenora lamented that she wanted to "meet the redhead." Damn. I wonder if Allison Case would be as popular if she dyed her hair.
On the way back to the car, I noticed someone who looked familiar walking toward us. As we got closer, I realized that it was Jonathan Groff, Spring Awakening's original Melchior. I am not proud of what I did. I freaked out. Badly. I didn't say anything, but I kind of stopped in my tracks and half-crumpled to the ground. I guess it was some kind of knee-jerk reaction left over from my Spring Awakening days.
Well, if there was any doubt in my mind that Ripley deserves the Tony, it's gone now. There is no way Allison Janney or any other actress that has been nominated could possibly be giving a better performance. Next to Normal is a great show, but it won't get Best Musical. Unfortunately, that's going to the gargantuan, twirling monstrosity that it Billy Elliot.