Two weeks after returning from the US I left home again for another theatrical adventure. We drove about 450 km down South to what I consider to be Bavaria (I learned some people call it Franken), to Fürth to be exact. Fürth is a small town extremely close to Nuremberg and Erlangen and their local theatre dove “head first into fate” by producing the German premiere of Next to Normal.
Speaking of Next to Normal: I’ve always admired the music, it goes so well with the story which is so much different from most of the things we get to see on musical theatre stages. I got the recording right when it came out and I’ve always wanted to see the play itself. So Fürth was kind of my chance. And then they also assembled a cast I was beyond excited about. Both of the women I’ve seen serveral times on stage and I loved the thought of Pia Douwes playing Diana from the start, while I was kind of sceptical about Sabrina Weckerlin as Natalie – since she’s already in her mid-twenties and I’ve never been too amazed by her acting (her voice is great, no question, but everytime I saw her perform I ended up being like: I KNOW she can act but somehow she never has to because either the directors aren’t that clear about what they wanted her to do or it was some kind of laziness…okay, that was mean.). I also saw Dirk Johnston who played Gabe perform in the show every class of UdK (Universität der Künste/University of Arts)-graduates in Musical/Show puts together and he’d already recorded two songs from Next to Normal translated into German. I also knew Thomas Borchert (Dan) as a performer so the only ones left unknown were Dominik Hees (Henry) and Ramin Dustdar (Dr. Madden).
Staging-wise I was almost 100% sure that it would be a not that original production (and I was right, I have a strange feeling it copied most of the staging and staging-ideas from the Broadway production, it even has the same set, only a lot smaller and fitted exactly onto that stage) in some points it worked well, in some it didn’t – at least in my point. There were so many hits showing a very specific way of reading the material, but in my opinion they were too few to actually be a way of reading the material. If you know what I mean.
For example there were some moments in which Gabe gives things to people (his mother and sister in particular) that might actually destroy them or the things around them (Natalie only ‘finds’ her mother’s pills after Gabe put them in front of her…) but I have a strange feeling this thought wasn’t taken as far as it could have been.
Anyway, I wasn’t there to see a brilliant production, I was there because I really wanted to see this cast and I was too curious about the translation by Titus Hoffmann (who was also the director). I am very picky about translations and I have to say as sad (and funny at the same time) as some things (aka mishaps…) in this translation are it has its great lines. One of my favourite lines is the translation of “Can you tell me, what it is you’re afraid of” (Dan in “I am the one”) into “Kannst du sagen, was es ist, dass dir Angst macht” (“Can you tell me, what it is you are fearing”), I think what Diana is experiencing is in deed fear. And “Angst” is actually a word that sounds very much like what it means. Note: If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you might already know that I’m weird…
As far as the mishaps are concerned I won’t get started. The funniest moment is in fact during “I am the one” right when Dan reaches the end of his arguments and he bursts into singing-shouting “Oh YEAH YEAH” and I’m not even sure about how ridiculous that is in English but I’m pretty sure it’s the most ridiculous things of the ridiculous in German. I actually had to laugh in the auditorium. And I couln’d stop. It was very sad, because it’s one of my favourite songs. For a really sad one….no, I won’t even get into writing about the translation of “Superboy and the invisible girl”. No. NO!
But, let’s talk about the performers. Sadly the men didn’t really catch me, no. I don’t know if he was ill or this throat was sore, but Mr. Johnston had to do some scary things with his voice in both shows I saw making him sound like he has no body at all. He really didn’t sound like I remembered his voice – but he did some acrobatics with/on/around a pole connecting the two floors of the set and he did that well, I have to give him that. You didn’t see that much of Ramin Dustdar, his Dr. Fine with a huge viennese accent was quite funny. I liked Dominik Hees’ portray of Henry and I like Henry as a character (can I have a Henry, please?). Thinking about Thomas Borchert as Dan (“Oh YEAH YEAH!”) I come to the conclusion that I really, really liked his acting. Especially in the last third of the show when everything is really concentrated on the acting (no light-effects, almost no colours….) I realized how much of a strong actor he is.
Now….the ladies. Pia Douwes might have shown me the strongest performance of a female actor in musical theatre I saw this year (the male one HAS to be Norbert Leo Butz. Like…there’s not even room for discussion). Her Diana is so fragile and over the top and strong at the same time, she’s clueless and over-reacting and Mrs. Douwes voice gives a very specific tone to all of these characteristics. Right in the beginning she just takes you along with her on Diana’s journey through the plot. From what I saw in videos her Diana thinks kind of more clearly than Alice Ripley’s and some might say: A clear Diana, really? And then I say: How much scarier is that when you see someone seeming to be so clear in her head and then doing these strange things? Because, yes, she does strange things and they develop from a – what seems to be – clear state of mind. Regarding her singing: I’m still a little speechless after two weeks… (I’m very looking forward to the recording, they announced a live recording of that production shortly after my visit.) I still can’t get over how intense that performance was. By the way the same applies to the performance of her ‘daughter’ portrayed by Sabrina Weckerlin. She definitely can play funny (we learned that there) and sad and crazy but most of all: She can act! Yay! I was proven right! And I especially liked the chemistry between those to ladies – and their voices. They both have very strong voices, of course, and very special, unmistakable ones – but very different from each other. That being said they didn’t mix well, the didn’t blend in together that much – a thing that many people might dislike but for Diana and Natalie I loved that. Those two characters are so alike and so different from each other at the same time it is actually great that the actresses can sing together and not together at the same time. (if that makes any sense at all)
Now two weeks after my visit I love that Next to Normal was brought to Germany with that kind of a kick-off-production and it even was reviewed on the very serious German theatre critic website Nachtkritik, which mostly reviews straight plays only. For any musical theatre expert media I am very excited for the review in the German musical theatre magazine musicals. But while I’m waiting for that I’ll read the libretto and the score for my dramaturgical concept of a piece of my choice for my admission exam in dramaturgy in musical theatre.
Have you ever seen any production of Next to Normal, maybe even the one in Fürth? I would be very happy if you shared your thoughts!