Next To Normal – Anything But Your Normal Musical­­

Wednesday night B & I saw Next To Normal at Playhouse Square. It was the last night of the inaugural Review Crew’s duties. It was a bittersweet feeling – I felt proud to know that the first season was through, but sad that our time as Playhouse Square insiders was over. And that’s exactly the feeling the end of the musical – bittersweet.

The show was incredible. The set was really unique – it was stationary, hardly ever moving or changing, yet providing the backdrop for every scene in the play, from a kitchen to a doctor’s office to a high school dance. The orchestra was incredible – not only was the rock music refreshing and catchy (even when the lyrics were depressing, I found myself bopping my head and tapping my toes, it was that entertaining), but the members of the ensemble were all scattered throughout the set.

Without beating around the bush – the lead actress, Alice Ripley, did not live up to the hype. I really really really wanted to like her – she’s from Cleveland (went to Kent State), is a member of the original cast and even won a Tony award for this very performance when the play first came out. Her singing was just uncomfortable. Maybe she had a cold? Whatever it was, it sounded like every song was forced and that she was holding her true voice in.

That being said, the other actors were incredible. The story itself was amazing. The play was well-written, the actors were great and the plot intriguing. For those of you that don’t know what it’s about – read this first, and then decide if you want to see it. In plain words – and without giving away the surprise that I didn’t see coming – it’s a depressing, not-uplifting storyline. It’s about mental illness and all the ways a family is affected by it. It’s about losing loved ones and letting go. It’s not a happy, upbeat musical. When the curtain lifts at the end, you’re left with a haunting feeling, and want to ask yourself, “well, where do we go from here?” But that, in itself, and the fact that I’m still thinking about the play and how it made me feel – is the very reason the musical is worth seeing.

If you’re looking for a feel good, average musical, Next To Normal is not for you. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it – quite the contrary, as it­­­­ was amazing. It’s a show that gives you an insider’s look into the lives of a seemingly normal family, that’s falling apart. It’s a show that makes you think about yourself and examine the life you’re living. It’s a show that stays with you.

The show is in town through the 19th. Buy tickets today here.

See what the other Review Crew members had to say:

Plus – here’s my new favorite song … such great music!

A Review Crew Review – Shrek the Musical

This past week, I was lucky enough to get two free tickets to the Broadway showing of Shrek, which had just opened up right here in Playhouse Square at the gorgeous Palace Theater.

I was really excited to see it – I loved Shrek (the movie) when I first saw it however many years ago and remember watching it over and over again with my younger brother. I was curious to see how the movie had been adopted for the theater.

What did I think of Shrek? Should you see it? Did it do the movie justice? Read on …

What were some parts of the musical that I enjoyed?

The scenery was great – it was childlike and colorful, which fit the show perfectly. The costumes were also great – Donkey’s head-to-toe getup was lifelike and creepy at the same time (a compliment), and Pinocchio’s costume (complete with a growing nose) was perfect!

The dancing was also fabulous. Lord Farquaad’s costume and dancing was hilarious – perfect for kids. There’s also a scene where the Princess dances with some rats (from the Pied Pieper of course), which turns into a full-blown tap dance (and the rats become tap shoes) which was unforgettable. My favorite song (singing and dancing), was Let Your Freak Flag Fly –  a song with a beautiful message (a la Lady Gaga’s Born This Way) and a catchy tune.

The musical also paid homage to and made fun of various other musicals and nursery rhymes – which was great. I lost count of all the references, but there were shoutouts to the Disney Lion King musical, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, etc.

How did the musical relate to the movie?

I’ve only seen Shrek 1 and Shrek 2 … sorry, I never made it past those two. The musical follows the plotline of the first movie pretty closely. Even some of my favorite scenes, word for word, were in the musical (“Not my gumdrop buttons!!!” was even included).

I thought the musical did a good job of bringing the movie to life on stage. The kids in the audience definitely agreed – they were all cheering, laughing and even dancing along. My only complaint? Sometimes the plotline felt a little lost (as I feel sometimes happens when things are sung, rather than spoken) and the characters weren’t as developed as they could’ve been. Shrek was still bumbly and loveable – but not the same as the movie.

Also, the music was fun – but that’s about it. Besides the aforementioned Let Your Freak Flag Fly and the finale (surprise for you), there really weren’t any catchy, memorable songs.

Should you see the musical Shrek?

Yes! Here’s who should see it:

  • Anyone with kids. Kids in the audience and children of Review Crew members loved the musical. They were laughing, smiling and dancing along.
  • Anyone who needs to be cheered up. Seriously, if you’re in a bad mood, I promise you won’t leave Shrek in a worse one! I went in feeling a little tired and sick (was coming down with a cold) and left feeling awake and energetic.
  • Anyone who’s a kid at heart. Would it have been better if I had brought a kid with me as opposed to my fiancé? Perhaps (he liked it but wasn’t singing and dancing along). Would I have enjoyed the musical more about 16 years ago? Perhaps … but the kid at heart in me still loved the musical and had a great time. Thanks Playhouse Square and Review Crew!

More from me and my other Review Crew friends:

A Mid-Winter Escape to a Tropical Paradise – South Pacific

It’s been two weeks since I saw South Pacific at Playhouse Square with the Review Crew, and I feel awful that I haven’t sat down and written a review. Why? It’s not because I was at a loss for words (am I ever?). It’s not because I was simply too busy. No, it’s because I was trying to think of something critical to say. How could I write a review of a musical without critiquing the acting ..or the music … or the dancing? Well, all that and more were incredible and with that, I give you my review.

South Pacific was amazing. As I sat inside the majestic Palace Theater on the freezing winter February evening, I was transported to a tropical island in the South Pacific and forgot about the treacherous ice storm that was building outside. As soon as the curtain rose and the sound of the full orchestra (yes, you read that right — South Pacific is one of the few traveling productions with a full orchestra), I was captivated by the singing and romantic story. It was my first time seeing the production (I hadn’t even seen the movie before) and the music was all that music in a musical should be- memorable, catchy and something that makes you smile. Even the next day I found myself singing a few of my new favorites – There Is Nothing Like a Dame (who wouldn’t like a bunch of military men singing about ladies?!) and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair. I enjoyed the story itself. While I loved the World War II era setting (especially the costumes .. loved the old bathing suits!), the tale, a timeless love story with underlying tones of racial prejudice, could have taken place in any era.

While it’s too late to buy tickets (sorry, I meant to have this posted sooner!), I highly recommend you keep an eye out for the next time it comes to Playhouse Square. Besides a few technical difficulties (mainly microphone/sound system issues) on Opening Night, the musical was a masterpiece and a must-see for anyone looking to take a mini tropical vacation — without leaving Cleveland.

Don’t take my word for it – see what the rest of the Review Crew had to say:

A Review Crew Review – Billy Elliot at Playhouse Square

This week, thanks to my participation in the Review Crew, I was lucky enough to catch a showing of Billy Elliot at the stunning State Theater of Playhouse Square.  If you haven’t seen the show yet, you should really buy tickets.  The choreography is stunning, and the children dancers are incredible. There’s a reason it won 10 Tony Awards, including best musical. In fact, there’s never a better time to buy tickets – I got an email from Playhouse Square today saying they’re having a super Cyber Monday online shopping event.

Before you rush to see it, however, I would recommend you do your homework and come prepared. It’s not a musical I’d necessarily recommend seeing blind. In order to have the best experience, here’s how to make sure you’re prepared before seeing Billy Elliot:

  1. Read up on your British miners’ history: Much of the play relies on the audience’s knowledge of key events in the British coal industry. The UK Miners’ Strike sets the stage for the play, and if you don’t see the movie ahead of time, or know about this historical event, you’re likely to be confused. What, you don’t know the 1984 miners’ strike like the back of your hand? Don’t worry, neither did I, seeing as it started before I was even born. So I read about it before seeing the play.  Don’t know where to start? Wikipedia’s entry can’t hurt.
  2. Come prepared to be wowed by the dancing, but don’t expect to be singing all of the songs on your way home. The dancing was amazing. Incredible. Breathtaking. [insert random synonym here] I mean, how often do you see a young boy tap dancing and jumping rope at the same time? I’ve never even seen that on DWTS! The music, however, failed to win me over. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the music, especially the Expressing Yourself number (my favorite!) – but with a score by Elton John, I had hoped the mind-blowing dancing would be accompanied by equally contagious music.
  3. It may be filled with talented kid actors (I even heard that they have 50 20 children traveling with them for all the different parts) – but it’s not necessarily for kids. The plotline can be confusing (especially with the British history … see #1) and the play is filled with foul language – the majority of it coming from the young kids themselves! I wasn’t offended by any of the language (yes, there were even a few f-bombs), but I could imagine a mom taking her children to see the play worrying that her kids would imitate the children’s language. It’s definitely not worse than anything many shows on TV, but parents should be aware of the language coming from the young stars. (Side note – I heard the US version of Billy Elliot has been toned down significantly, so I can’t imagine what the language in the original British version was like!)
  4. Expect to be inspired and amazed by Billy … but don’t sleep on the other characters. Billy, played by Giuseppe Bausilio when I saw it, was amazing. ‘Nuff said. But I couldn’t keep my eyes off Jacob Zelonky who plays his friend Michael. He was my favorite character – not only was his character complex, but he was an amazing dancer and he completely stole the Expressing Yourself scene. And who could forget Billy’s dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson? The part of Mrs. Wilkinson was played by Tony Award-winning Faith Prince, who received loud applause the moment she stepped on stage. Her singing, dancing and overall presence was incredible – you won’t be disappointed.

Blue Man Group Comes to Cleveland … you MUST see it!

A few weeks ago, I found out I was selected to join the Playhouse Square Review Crew. It’s a cool new initiative that Playhouse Square is trying out to engage social media users for their Broadway series. I’m really excited to be part of it – as a member, I get to view the opening night shows of the Broadway Series at Playhouse — for free! In return, if I want I can provide a review of each performance.

First up? Blue Man Group. I saw Blue Man Group in Boston my freshman year of college and loved it. I didn’t remember too much about it, besides the men in blue of course, but I was excited to see it again.

The verdict? You MUST see it! Clevelanders – get out your credit cards and go online and order tickets NOW. Seriously – it was such a good show, put me in such a good mood and was tons of fun. Not convinced? Here are 3 reasons why you should see Blue Man Group:

1.  You are guaranteed to leave in a great mood, no matter what you were feeling when you got there

The energetic music, bright lights and  interactive music of Blue Man Group got my  heart beating and my mouth smiling and I was hooked.
I’ll admit that before the show started, I was having a less than stellar week.  Stressed out and and working late most of last week made for a less than lovable Melissa.  But  after leaving the theatre, I commented to my fiance, “I feel great! I don’t know how I’m going to get to sleep tonight, I’m so  wired!”

2.  It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before

Blue Man Group  is truly indescribable.  Sure I could think of about a thousand adjectives  to  describe the performance (energizing, amazing, tons of fun, etc.), but to tell you what the  actual show was about?  Nearly impossible. “Three guys in all blue dance, act, play music and never talk” just doesn’t do it justice.

It truly  is something like you’ve never experienced before. What other broadway show have you seen before where the audience is encouraged to get up and shake their booty to a song that proceeds to name all the terms there are for your behind (including rumpus,  buns, bedonkadonk, “place where all the burritos go,” etc. )?  That’s what I thought.

3.  It will make you think, but not so much that it hurts

As I mentioned, the first time I saw Blue Man Group was in college and to be honest, I just saw it as pure entertainment.  This time, however, I noticed that the show  is clearly making a commentary on society.  Cultural differences and our dependence on technology are addressed, but not in a smothering preachy manner.  So you don’t just leave entertained, you are also enlightened.

And if none  of those reasons  convinces you, maybe this will- I missed Glee last week just to see it…and it was worth every minute!*

*Gleeks don’t usually miss Glee unless they’re deathly ill.

By the way – if you want to see my review, along with the other Review Crew, check out the video below.