20-Day Countdown! The Top 20 Tony Performances of My Lifetime: #7: NEXT TO NORMAL, 2009

Seven days until the Tony Awards! We are at #7 on my 20-day Countdown of the Top 20 Tony Performances of My Lifetime.

I cannot say enough good things about this next show I'm going to introduce, Next To Normal.  It is moving, controversial, scary emotional, sad, beautiful, every emotion all rolled up into one hell of a perfect score and one hell of an original cast.  Although I'm sure it's no secret that I loved the original off-Broadway Brian d'Arcy James waaaay more than the Broadway-replacement J. Robert Spencer, both men nailed the leading male part, and Alice Ripley took home the freakin' cake, piled-high icing and all.  And I do mean icing!  Holy balls, she gives me the chills!

The show is a painful journey into the heart of grief.  Addressing such issues as death of a loved one, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and suburban life, Next To Normal doesn't shy away from pain, telling the story of a mother's struggles with worsening bipolar disorder at the death of a family member and the loss of her grasp on reality.  The musical is very careful to walk a fine line between what is real and what is imagined, what is actually happening and what is all in the head, so I will not give away the plot, lest you get a chance to go see this gem for yourself!  But if you do, bring along a box of tissues.  Ye be warned.

When the show first opened in its workshopping days, it was fairly panned, with critics claiming that too much focus was placed on the medical procedures involved with treating patients and not enough focus went to the emotions of the family.  Some felt it was a slap in the face for those helping with treating bipolar disorder, while others simply thought it lacked the one thing that audiences needed in order to feel for the characters: connection.  By the time the show was reworked and opened up on Broadway, no one could say that anymore.  Because, quite frankly, if you can't feel the emotions of this family, if your heart doesn't break for everyone involved in this story, then you don't really know what emotions are.  So your opinion doesn't count, you emotionless hater.  Yeah.  Face it.

The show went on to be the talked-about event of the year, winning the Outer Critics' Circle Award for Outstanding Score, winning three of its eleven (!) Tony nominations, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama (only the eighth musical in history to do so), running for 21 previews and 733 performances, and even running a successful “Twitter-show," where they posted the show line by line each day, ending the last line of the show on the morning of the Tony Awards, and earning them a 2009 OMMA Award for Best in Show Situation Interactive.

So, here it is, folks, a kick-ass performance of Tony-winning Alice Ripley and (sorry, it's not Brian d'Arcy James!) J. Robert Spencer leading the cast in the medley of Next To Normal at the 2009 Tony Awards.

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