July 5th, 2011

storyteller doll

Next to Normal

I saw Next to Normal at the Kennedy Center on Thursday night. I'd resisted seeing this show in the past, largely because I don't think mental illness makes a good subject for musical theatre. But enough people I know who like theatre really like it, so I decided to take the chance.

I found it both powerful and surprisingly witty. The story has as much to do with the impact of Diana's illness on her family as it does on her own struggle. I particularly liked the way that the daughter, Natalie, was dealt with. She seemed very realistic as she worried about whether she'd inherited her mother's illness, wondered just what her relationship with her boyfriend was really about, and fumed over taking second place to her parents' problems. It probably helped that Emma Hunton, who played Natalie, had such excellent control of the material. Her rendition of "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" was one of the most memorably musical moments of the production.

Alice Ripley has played the role of Diana for about three years now and seemed very natural at it. Asa Somers was convincing as her husband, Dan. The weak link in the cast, in my opinion, was Curt Hansen, who played the son, Gabe. He was fne through much of it, but there were some times when he seemed to have trouble projecting his voice.

The music is pleasant enough, though not especially memorable for the most part. Still, it enhanced the story which is what one really wants in a musical. (Actually, the show is almost through-sung.)

All in all, I can recommend this production. But I still want to discourage people from writing musicals about mental illness.
storyteller doll

Zurich and Liechtenstein

I flew to Zurich for the long weekend. This was just on the edge of my rule that you have to be somewhere three times as long as it takes getting there and back, but it was worth the trip.

I had printed out a few walking tours and spent most of Saturday meandering first down Bahnhofstrasse (a shopping street, more notable for people watching than stores), finishing up at a large flea market by Lake Zurich. Then I followed the other two tours I'd downloaded, leading me through the Altstadt (the old city). The most notable sights are the Fraumunster church, with beautiful stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall, and the Grossmunster cathedral. But the real pleasure of the walk was just turning down the narrow medieval alleys (e.g. Synagogengasse, the street where the synagogue had been in medieval times) and admiring the architecture. Another obligatory stop was for coffee at the Cafe Odeon, where Lenin hung out plotting revolution. All in all, it made for a pleasant walk, especially as the weather was sunny and warm, but not hot.

On Sunday, I made the excursion to Liechtenstein that had been the primary purpose of the trip. That required a train to Sargans, connecting to a bus to the capital, Vaduz. The scenery on the train ride was stereotypically Swiss, with peaked roof houses, green fields, and steep hills rising behind the farmlands. Even the industrial areas met my expectations, as I saw factories that produce beer, chocolate, and pharmaceuticals. As for Liechtenstein, I have to admit it's not a very exciting place. Vaduz is pleasant enough, but nothing there is truly unique. I got my workout in by climbing up through the old part of the city, past a medieval building known as the Red House, and to a view of the castle. (One can't visit the castle, so the effort involved in the climb is somewhat dubious.) The main street of the center has a few cafes (about half of which offer Asian food, oddly enough, though I went for one that stuck to the more expected pizza, pasta, and sandwiches), museums (about which more in a minute), the attractive parliament building, and the obligatory cathedral. There are also images from postage stamps embedded in the street and a photo exhibit about Liechtenstein's foreign aid program outside the parliament.

The national museum is so-so. My German is barely adequate for reading the labels so perhaps it is partly my own fault, but I never got a sense of what makes Liechtenstein different from Switzerland or Austria. The art museum was better, assuming one does (as I do) like modern art. But it was rather pricy. The Postal Museum, despite being a subject I have little interest in, has the major advantage of being free.

Perhaps I'd have liked Liechtenstein better had it not been Sunday (which is a day for tourists to take over Vaduz) but I found it, generally dull. Still, I accomplished the purpose of my trip (namely, filling in a country gap) and it was good to get away for the weekend.