(Patrick Healy's article appeared in the New York Times 4/28/09)
An Out-of-Town Overhaul Helps a Musical Find Focus
Michael Greif sensed something was wrong. It was February 2008, and Mr. Greif — the director of the Tony Award-winning musicals “Rent” and “Grey Gardens” — was watching his latest production, “Next to Normal,” night after night during its Off Broadway run at Second Stage Theater. In a recent interview he recalled feeling that many audience members were not gasping or flinching at a pivotal revelation in Act I: the main character had just tried to kill herself.
“Everything on stage looked pretty — people weren’t getting that Diana had just bled out all over the living room,” Mr. Greif said, referring to the character Diana Goodman, whose struggle with bipolar disorder is at the heart of this musical. “It was one of several moments where the tone of the show was off. Big moments just weren’t landing.”
That led the lead producer of “Next to Normal,” David Stone, to take an unusual step: he moved a show that had already opened in New York to an out-of-town theater (Arena Stage, in Washington) for an overhaul. There, the creative team and actors changed songs, swaths of dialogue, aspects of the characters and the overall tone in hopes of . . .