This post may contain minor spoilers for Next To Normal and A Steady Rain.
We spent yet another weekend in New York taking in shows, as we are wont to do. Since my wife's taste and mine differ, we sometimes compromise on what we want to see. My choice for the weekend was Next To Normal, a rock opera about a housewife with bipolar disorder. I’m such a sucker for those frothy feel-good shows. With the Tony Award-winning score written by Tom Kitt who also did the blink-and-you-missed-it High Fidelity, I knew to expect some energy.
What we didn’t expect was the emotion. Alice Ripley, who won a Tony for her starring role, turns on the waterworks several times in the show. Our seats were so close that we could see that the tears (and her ankle tattoo) were real. My wife was blubbering along most of the time. At one critical point in the show a prop gets smashed. A piece of it flew into my shoulder and I saved it as a souvenir.
But the show we were in New York to see was A Steady Rain (movie stars must like plays with ‘rain' in the title since we saw Julia Roberts in Three Days of Rain) starring Hugh Jackman (who we seen prance it up in The Boy From Oz) and Daniel Craig (James Bond and a Broadway novice). We didn’t even know what the play was called since we had just been referring to it as The Show With The Hunks. She was joking that if they did nothing but sit on the stage for an hour, it would be worth it.
She pretty much got her wish. The play is ninety minutes long without an intermission and the only props are two chairs. The two actors never leave the stage and give a Rashomon-like recounting of a series of increasingly brutal events that make Training Day seem like a episode of Adam-12. The two motor mouths have overlapping monologues as well as a few scenes between them. Only twice in the whole show did the two break character in the least when an unexpected audience laugh at one of the few jokes caught them off-guard.
As we like to do, we hung around outside the stage door in hopes of getting an autograph or a picture. Daniel Craig kind of zipped out of there, but I did manage to catch one brief shot. Hugh Jackman signed a few things and my wife got her Playbill passed up to the front while I managed to capture him about to duck into his SUV.
With the stars gone, we headed back to the Booth Theater where Next To Normal is playing right next door to A Steady Rain. When that show let out the cast graciously came out to sign autographs. We were stuck in gaggle of teenage girls hoping to see Aaron Tveit who does the recurring character of Tripp Vanderbilt on Gossip Girls. They went away disappointed because Aaron slipped away despite having signed autographs after the matinee.
When the rather lovely Alice Ripley came through the line, she was signing posters and playbills but holding off on posing for pictures. But when I showed her the piece of wood I got hit with, she remembered my wife crying and posed for a picture with her.
Bonus Celebrity Stalking: Right round the corner from these two shows, Jude Law is appearing in Hamlet to burnish his Serious Thespian credentials. As any high school English student will attest, that is a very long play and was about the last show to get out that evening. While I was getting some more pictures taken with my new best friend Alice Ripley, my wife positioned herself to see Jude leaving his show and she got this rather serendipitous shot.
My pictures from across the street take a little imagination and the visual clue of the giant poster in the background to make him out.
I always encourage people to see live theater if you can. Next To Normal is proof that you don't need singing mermaids or dancing tigers to do compelling mature-themed musicals with a contemporary sound. And while A Steady Rain is a celebrity-driven sell-out, the story was compelling. And it is conveniently right next to Next To Normal.