Random Thoughts, 6/29/2011
The national tour of "Next to Normal," Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, opened in Washington last night for a two-week run. I didn't see "Next to Normal" in its tryouts at Arena Stage in Washington or its later Broadway run, but better late than never. It is hard to sort out the emotions that grip me after seeing this superb piece of theater. Suffice it to say that this story of a family beset by tragedy and mental illness is moving in a way few plays ever are, and that few actors have seemed more intensely alive on stage than the sextet of actors here. Alice Ripley, reprising her Tony-winning role, has a rich, throbbing contralto that is the perfect instrument for registering every shade of emotion, and Curt Hansen, singing his show-stopping number "I'm Alive," is spectacularly vibrant and charismatic. But the other actors are also brilliant: Asa Somers as the beleaguered husband, Emma Hunton and Preston Sadleir as the young lovers, and Jeremy Kushnier as the psychiatrist who is, perhaps, just a little too fond of himself.
"Next to Normal" contains plot twists and surprises that would be criminal to reveal; if you haven't seen it, go. It will be at the Kennedy Center until July 10, and then it moves on to Charlotte and Toronto.
Margaret Tyzack was one of those great English actors who spent a lifetime of hard work to appear effortlessly regal on stage and on screen. I never had the honor of seeing her on stage, but those who did were unanimous in their praise. I have heard reports of her Mrs. Alving in "Ghosts" at the Stratford (Ontario) Festival that made me forever regretful that I missed it. Anyone who saw Tyzack as Antonia in "I, Claudius," an innocent among wolves who took out her frustrations on her disabled, stammering son, knew they were watching a performer of rare accomplishment. Even in that glittering assemblage of Derek Jacobi, Sian Phillips, John Hurt et. al., Tyzack stood out. Of course, she could stick in the memory in even the smallest role, such as the few minutes Woody Allen doled out to her in "Match Point."
One of Tyzack's final appearances was in another Allen movie, "Scoop," in which she was one of a group of shades being ferried across the River Styx. She died in London, of undisclosed causes, on June 25, and I can only wish her a happy eternal sojourn in the Elysian Fields. She earned her place in Paradise.