Friday, August 5, 2016

Forget playing dangerous Pokemon Go. This week's staycation: Instead of flying to NYC, see Next to Normal at Crown Center's Musical Theater Heritage. Three Tony's and a Pulitzer prize.

Warning: Playing Pokemon Go is low class, dangerous entertainment.  It makes you look like a Donald Trump Duck-Dynasty crazoid.   If you want to watch crazy dysfunctional people, instead make sure they are high-level, not running for office--and can sing.  As in the ones portrayed in NEXT TO NORMAL, the very award-winning musical at Crown Center's Musical Theater Heritage.

I saw it Friday night. (After having seen it on Broadway in 2009, the year it won three Tony's including best score and best actress (Alice Ripley).  I paid $140 for that ticket, but tickets here start at $17.)  Sensational singers with a story that touches your heart.  Who else sings about living with a Mom who is losing her mind?

Listen here as the Mom explains how it feels to be depressed

This is one of the best shows of this season at George Harter's famed MTH concert series.  PS, I've already paid for and booked my seats for Cabaret in November.   (I'll be in the audience, wearing my top hat and fishnet stockings and too much mascara, channeling my inner Liza Minelli.)  That show may sell out soon.  Book now.

Here's the cool thing about MTH:
1.  In August, it's cool as in icy air conditioning.  Totally unlike Starlight Theatre where you melt faster than their overpriced lukewarm beer can cool you.  So cool is it, that if you sit in the seats on the LH side, where the vents pour out chilled air like Niagara Falls, they even keep a supply of blankets for those women who show up in a sleeveless dress, not knowing this secret.

2.  All the seats are CLOSE!!!  You can see the singers' tonsils and whether or not they use Botox.  It's intimate.  Getting seats that close in NYC would cost you well over $225.  Or $800 if it's Hamilton, version 2 without Lin Manuel Miranda.  That's the other major drawback at other local venues like Starlight, where you are sitting a football field away, with some stupid binoculars messing up your mascara.  (Well, not for guys like Tony.  He doesn't wear mascara except to go to The Edge of Hell Friday and Saturday nights in September.)

3.  At MTH, it's a semi-musical. All the best features, without the big drawback. They hire MUCH better singers--the best in town or imported.  They wear costumes and makeup and they deliver their lines--but there's no bad dancing!  It's like going to the prom and getting the goodnight kiss or whatever--without having to watch people do the frug or the waltz or twerking--whatever--badly.  See, producers George Harter and Chad Gerlt figured out a better formula.  It's like cheesecake light.  All the flavor, with half the calories.

In KC, at Musical Theatre Heritage's production, Ashley Pankow is
every bit as good at singing and acting as Broadway's Alice Ripley.
Next to Normal is an unconventional modern musical about a family pulling together to support a depressed family member.  Instead of head mikes that never capture the lyrics, at MTH, their singers step up to the row of concert style big boy microphone stands in the changing spotlights--and belt it out bigger than Ethel Merman.  (Millenials will need to google that.)  You never miss a line--which is great with a 'book' (story and score) like NEXT TO NORMAL.

4.  George Harter gives a fact-laden talk right before the curtain.  He's like the Rick Steves travel guide of musical theatre in the U.S.   Sharing secrets and factoid tidbits it took him a lifetime to learn.

George's talks always set you up to then notice for yourself what is great.  Strong mixed drinks and tasty munchies in the lobby you may take to your seat.  Excellent brownies.  (No pot.  This is Mizzurah, not Colo.)

5.  And, at the end of the show, I've never seen this done ANYWHERE ELSE, and it is GENIUS: the entire cast lines up in the lobby like a wedding reception line, and you get to talk with any or all of them as you walk out!     No going backstage, or queing up for 45 minutes, like I once did for my niece to meet Whoopi Goldberg in NYC.  At MTH, you can't exit without at least the chance to go thru the line.  At the last show, Big River, about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, one superb singer shared with me where he also sings in a black church every Sunday, because Lordy, Lordy, he had the pipes, the voice of God.

The 'buh-bye' line is GREAT when you bring a shy friend or date who secretly wants to tell a singer, "You were my favorite" and get a hug.  Yep: FREE HUGS FROM THE CAST.  For $17 a ticket, you will be a hero for making that happen.
Crown Center Shops
third level (orange) at the very end doors
Free parking on weekends

Next To Normal:  Aug. 4-21

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