I recently had the chance to see some shows that I have wanted to see for some time. The first is the Utah premiere of Next to Normal at Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City. Next to Normal was nominated for a Tony on Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama just last year (the only other musicals to win this prize are Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park with George (yea!), and Rent). It’s an unusual piece in that it’s a rock musical about a woman suffering from manic-depression and the effect it has on her and her family. If the only type of musicals you like is stuff like Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Mary Poppins, and Mamma Mia, this show will probably not be up your alley.
I went in with high expections because I had heard so many positive things about the original Broadway production, and I was very excited to see PTC’s production because I never got an opportunity to see the Broadway production, and unless they bring a touring production around, this was my shot.
I worried a little because I saw PTC’s recent production of Rent and was a bit disappointed because the sound system didn’t support the show well, and I even know that performers were asked to pull back so they wouldn’t blow out the system, and unfortunately, it showed. So I worried that the same thing might happen in this show. I was told, however, that some new equipment was rented for this show, and it showed.
I was not disappointed. I thought the show was terrific, and it kept me very engaged. All of the performers (only six of them) were all terrific, and the lady who played the mother, who has the biggest load, was fabulous.
The set was exceptional. I loved it! I was a house with an off-kilter suburban backdrop, and various panels would open to reveal parts of the house, which seemed symbolic of the things that happen behind closed doors that are kept under wraps that eventually see the light. It’s one of my favorite sets I’ve seen at Pioneer Theatre.
The story itself was quite intriguing and dramatic, of course, but with enough humor that you didn’t feel like you were being dragged down. The drums in the orchestra got a little loud at times, and one actor had a mannerism that I felt he overused. Still, I liked the show very much.
One way I could tell I liked the show was that I got so wrapped up in it, I didn’t pick it apart and criticize it in my head like I so often do with other shows. The music was good, too.
Obviously, the subject is quite serious, but I really thought the show did a good job of showing you what it’s like to get in the head of (and live with) someone with bipolar disorder. I actually had a few friends there (three of whom have bipolar disorder and one whose mother has it). Two of my friends were brought to tears by the show. One said she felt like her life was being portrayed on stage and that it was kind of cathartic.
Anyway, I really enjoyed it and was so glad I had a chance to see it before I leave for home in Vegas. I highly recommend it. It’s still open for two weeks. If you live in Utah, go see it!
The next show I got to see is a community production of Grey Gardens at Wasatch Theatre Company at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City. Obviously, this was a much smaller scale show than Next to Normal was, but Grey Gardens, too, is a show I’ve wanted to see since its Broadway debut four years ago. It, too, was nominated for a Tony and Christine Ebersole won for Best Actress for an amazing performance.
For those of you unfamiliar with Grey Gardens, it is a musical based on the 1974 documentary of the same name. the documentary was made after it was discovered that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ cousin and aunt were living in squalor and filth in their dilapidated estate, Grey Gardens. The two women were once wealthy socialites and the documentary and the musical (as well as an HBO film starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange) attempt to unconver how these once rich and beautiful socialites fell so far. If you get a chance to see the documentary (or even the HBO movie), it’s pretty interesting (and sad).
In any case, I had really wanted to see the musical, and I knew it was likely this would be my only chance as I don’t expect many productions of Grey Gardens to be done in Utah. The first act deals with the mother and daughter’s lives at the height of their wealth and popularity. The second act is basically the events in the documentary. The same actress plays the mother in the first act and the now-older daughter in the second act. My friend played this part, and I must say, as unbiased as I can be, I thought she did a really great job in a very demanding part. I also though the lady that played the mother in act two was quite good, and so act two was more enjoyable than act one because the focus was on the strongest actors.
It was a community theatre production, and so there were weaknesses; although for a community theatre production it wasn’t too bad. Fortunately, the act two mother and daughter were very good performers. The young lady who played the daughter in the first act was kind of weak, however. I just didn’t think her voice was up to snuff as far as what the part demanded, and I also felt she didn’t quite fit the part. An older gentleman played the mother’s father in the first act, and I thought he was pretty terrible. He had no rhythm, which is not good if you’re in a musical. He also flubbed his lines a lot and didn’t seem terribly confident, which is unfortunate because the character is supposed to exude confidence and authority, neither of which he was able to do. I just cringed every time he was stage, but tried to forgive him because it was, after all, a community theatre production.
There are also two little girls in the the show, who play Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier, respectively. They were cute, but not great actors. Jacqueline, in particular, was hard to hear. Two actors played Brooks, a servant, and George Gould Strong, a hanger-on who lived off the mother’s money. Both actors were fine.
I did enjoy one actor, who played Joe Kennedy in the first act and a handy man named Jerry in the second act. I thought he had a nice voice. I think he has some maturing to do as an actor, but he has great potential, I think. He, too, was featured more in the second act, and because he was one of the stronger performers, it was stronger act.
My friend had the bulk of the show, which was good because she did a good job, and he scenes with the mother were quite good.
The show dragged a bit, and the music (which I had heard before) doesn’t do a ton for me, although I think if I listened to it over and over, I might develop more of a taste for it. I do have it on my iPod. Maybe I should listen to it more. The musical isn’t written for the songs to be catchy; it’s written more for them to be like spoken dialogue. I do wish it had more memorable tunes, but I also realize that probably isn’t the point. There is one song I quite like called “Around the World.” Very sad, but a pretty melody.
The show is well-written and interesting. I’m not sure if this is the strongest production you will ever see, but since you’re not likely to see many in Utah, you might give it a gander. I’m not giving it as strong a recommendation as Next to Normal, though. I think Grey Gardens closes in two weeks, too.
The last show I saw was probably one I wasn’t supposed to see, but a friend got a bootleg copy of The Book of Mormon from his friend, and since neither he nor I are likely to get a chance to see it any time soon, we watched it. I typically don’t like the idea of bootlegs of productions. I think it’s only fair to pay to see things so that that money can go to the artists responsible, but since I won’t be able to see a production any time soon, and because I didn’t pay any money to see an illegal copy (nor had anything to do with obtaining it), I figured why not watch it?
I was nervous because I know there is a lot in the show that was likely to offend me, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed it. In spite of some very foul language, the show is quite funny and, yes, as many people have said, there is a sweetness in it that touched me.
The choreography was terrific. Some very clever stuff. And the performances were all very strong and there was some very excellent comic timing in abundance. There were even a couple of moments that caused me to tear up, if you can believe it.
I posted about my responses to the songs in an earlier post, so now I’ll say what my impressions are now that I’ve seen them in context.
“Hello” – Very simple choreography, but very effective. A really strong way to begin the show (although the true beginning was a Hill Cumorah Pageant-type tableau that was actually quite funny). I still like the song a lot. Very catchy.
“Two By Two” – Loved the choreography in this one. Lots of funny stuff.
“You and Me (But Mostly Me)” – Also very funny and very well sung by Andrew Rannells.
“Hasa Diga Eebowai” – The song still offends me, but it is funnier in context.
“Turn It Off” – Very funny and great choreography!
“I Am Here For You” – I like the song, but the missionaries are in their garments in this scene, which I found a little off-putting. It bothered me.
“All-American Prophet” – This was a really well-done number. A fun piece.
“Sal Tlay Ka Siti” – I was amazed by how much this number touched me. It also has some humor in it, but I thought it was a really sweet number. Nikki M. James sang it terrifically, too.
“Man Up” – This was not my favorite number when I heard the soundtrack, but the number is funnier and more rousing in context. Still not my favorite tune, but I appreciate it more.
“Making Things Up” I still don’t care for the language, but the song makes more sense in context, and there are some visual gags that are humorous.
“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” – Really great choreography and visual gags that made the songs much more enjoyable when seeing it. I quite liked what they did with it.
“I Believe” – Still my favorite song, I think, and it was very funny and well-performed. Not too different from how it appeared on the Tony Awards.
“Baptize Me” – The song still offends me and makes me uncomfortable. I get the humor, but the sexual innuendo in a song about baptism, which I still consider a sacred ordinance, makes me very uncomfortable.
“I Am Africa” – I didn’t really get this song when I heard it, but seeing it made it much more clear, and the choreography is quite humorous.
“Joseph Smith American Moses” – The language in this song is still too much for me. The parody of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” is not lost on me, but the language and situation is just too foul for my taste.
“Tomorrow Is a Latter Day” – Very strong closer and wraps the show up nicely.
Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells are very funny. There are some very clever and funny lines and situations, and the story is sweet. I don’t necessarily agree with the points Matt Stone and Trey Parker are making, but I understand why they are making them and where they might be coming from.
If I got a chance to see the show live, I might go, but I definitely wouldn’t take my mother or niece. I doubt anyone in my family would be able to watch it without feeling offended and assaulted (and I was offended at times, too, although not as much as I had anticipated). Overall, I liked the show; I just wish Parker and Stone could lay off some of the profanity.
Anyway, those are three productions I’ve seen. You aren’t likely to see the latter unless you go to New York, but you can catch the other two in Utah if you live there.