10 Things I learned (about me) while seeing the Berlin production of Next to Normal

There’s a German version of this article avaliable which you can find by clicking here – German!

  1. If you don’t like certain parts of a translation and you change these parts make sure you really change them for the better. Not liking things is totally fine, especially with this translation as I pointed out on more than one occasion. Changing things is totally fine, too, as long as you are checking back with the original translator (at least in case these changes are very crucial and/or cover more than a certain percentage of the text). On the other hand – what isn’t fine is changing things for the sake of changing it. If you cannot come up with a better idea then stick to what the translator gave you. When in doubt: Ask the dramaturg for opinion.
  1. You can totally agree with a director in some things and totally disagree on others. Okay, that one I knew before – I’m gonna be a dramaturg eventually. But I think few productions over the past years have made this as clear to me as this one. When I went South to see the first German production of Next to Normal almost two years ago now I remember being a little bit frustrated with the way this production introduced Gabe as the cool, lovely and just overall nice son. To me he isn’t. He is evil. Really, really evil. I mean: When Diana leaves Dan and Nathalie he turns to them instead. If I had to work on a production myself, there would be…..anyway. Thorsten Fischer, the director of the Berlin production, made Gabe at least kind of evil for the most parts – which I was a big fan of. For so many other things though I couldn’t agree less. Which brings me to…
  1. You have to take care of your actors. Do you think it’s a weird coincidence that Guntbert Warns who plays Dan isn’t talked about in pretty much ALL the reviews (at least the ones I read)? Berlin reviewers and German musical blogs seem to hesitate to say something negative. However I do, too. But: It’s bad. Listening to the Broadway recording especially shows how beautiful and meaningful Dan’s part is music-wise. Mr. Warns really isn’t cutting it. There’s a lot of speaking and things that loosely resemble parlando or recitative forms and then bad singing. Which undermines this production in so many ways. I was constantly reminded how weird and not “natural” musical theatre is as a genre itself: Why does someone sing when he is obviously SO MUCH BETTER at speaking? Also: My thoughts are with those who have to harmonize with him every night (especially Gabe and Henry, my thoughts are with you, boys!) At least on opening night he also looked so uncomfortable and all I kept thinking was: Why doesn’t Diana walk out on him WAY earlier? However I don’t want to “bully” Mr. Warns. It isn’t his fault he was cast. The director and the creative team cast him. And I really think as members of a creative team you not only have to take care of the production, but also of the actors involved. And sometimes you have to protect them.
  1. If you are producing/directing a musical don’t treat it as a “play with music”. Just don’t. Especially a piece like Next to Normal. Have you listened to the score? You then might have noticed that the music is so tightly knit together with the words and the plot and Diana’s mental state it’s not funny anymore.
  1. On a similar note as 4 is: Just because I don’t like a song it’s not okay to rush through it (“Song of Forgetting” / “Lied vom Vergessen”, I’m talking about you!)
  1. Let’s say you make a creative decision. Let’s say you don’t like the optimistic ending “Light” / “Licht” suggests. How wonderful would it be to just stick to this decision? Making your actors do a weird and inappropriate pose in the end (what is this couple-y she leans backwards into his front-pose between Dan and Nathalie anyway?), then black the scene out, have a solid 5 to 10 second black, everyone is clapping and then having the lights go on again and “Light” starts as some kind of epilogue. How weird is that? We’ve just witnessed a very tense and thrilling ‘ending’ and then – BOOM – just kidding or what? I’m pretty sure you could have just asked those who represent the writers/”own” the rights and then you might had been able to stick to your initial idea.
  1. If you cast people think about how voices sound with each other. With some casting decisions in this production you just are like WTF (see No. 3) and with others you are like WHY?
  1. Diana is not a very stable person. Her singing “I’m no sociopath” hints – at least to me – to her actually being one. She has troubles reading and reacting to people’s behavior (the very first dialogue between Nathalie and her, basically the whole “Just another day”). And she makes a lot of sex jokes (“My Psychopharmacologist and I”….) in my opinion these ‘jokes’ are a lot more powerful and disturbing when you don’t see Dr. Fine act as if he could mean it in a sexy way. Because then it’s not just everyone cheering for the sex-joke to FINALLY cross the finish line after you’ve seen it coming for about a minute.
  1. I REALLY want to work on musicals when I’m a really grown up dramaturg. It totally has the power to have me worked up for days. It really has. (Anyone wanna hire me? – joking….)
  1. Nothing new but this hit me with all its power: I can be so excited and nervous for other people. I really can. I was a nervous wreck.



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