Curt Hansen plays Gabe in the Broadway national touring company of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. The tour stops at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre Jan. 25 through Feb. 20. Below: Hansen dances with Tony Award-winning Normal star Alice Ripley, who plays Diana, his mother. Photo by Craig Schwartz
When people talk about the musical Next to Normal, it’s inevitably about one of two things: how they related on a deep personal level to the story of a bi-polar mom and the affect her disorder has on her family or how astonished they were by Alice Ripley’s lead performance as the struggling mom.
Ripley is extraordinary – this is the role that won her the Tony Award – and the show can be amazingly powerful, but there’s more to this Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics). When Normal pulls into San Francisco’s Curran Theatre as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series, audiences will see there are other complicated, multi-layered characters surrounding Ripley’s Diana. One of them is Gabe, her son.
On tour, this tricky role is played by Curt Hansen, who was part of the Broadway cast as the vacation swing. When he describes Gabe, he uses words like “average” and “all-American.” But as the show’s title suggests, nothing here is exactly normal. “Gabe fits into this little family, and the more normal people think he is, the more surprised they are by the things he reveals. Sometimes you feel like Gabe is a bad guy, but I feel like Diana loves him so much, and he loves her so much. Whatever happens, it comes from a place of love first.”
Gabe, you can safely say, is a teen with issues.
“I have moments on stage where I hope that I am part of something that’s in Diana, that I help convey what’s going on in her,” Hansen explains on the phone from a tour stop in Denver. “There’s nothing simple here. We see a bipolar mom, how she struggles and how her family contributes to that struggle or how they try and cope with it in their own ways.”
Gabe has two big numbers — “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” and the electrifying “I’m Alive” – in the challenging pop/rock Kitt-Yorkey score, so Hansen had to do more than just learn the songs. “They had to be in my body,” he says. “The songs are high and really vocally demanding. At first it’s all about technique and getting through it. Now is when it’s really fun because you live it. You enjoy what you’re singing. ‘I’m Alive’ is every musical theater kid’s dream to sing. It’s a really fun and amazing song, and I know, obviously, how lucky I am to get to do it.”
Unlike so many national tours, this one features its original Broadway star. Ripley’s star turn combines the best of in-the-moment dramatic acting and the best of contemporary musical theater. Her vibrancy on stage certainly isn’t lost on Hansen.
“It’s unreal what happens on stage every night,” he says. She is so responsive, and every show is different in a good way. I see new things every show. It blows my mind how committed she is to the character. She makes the environment on stage so alive. If you do something, you know she’ll be open to it. That’s what makes a great actor – they respond in different ways because they’re open and listening. It’s all the basic 101 stuff, but once the show starts, once the ride starts, it just gains momentum from first note to last. It’s a roller coaster every single night. I feel fortunate to be involved in a show that you can be so emotionally invested in and feel like you’re making a difference for the audience.”
Hansen, a Wisconsin native who now lives in New York with his girlfriend, caught the performing bug in a sixth grade choir class (a friend said it would be an easy A). He’s been singing since and now finds himself comforting crying moms at the stage door after Next to Normal performances. “This show really hits people. Moms definitely relate to it, but so do people who have been through tragedies and dealt with heavy stuff in their own families. When I saw the show in New York, I didn’t really have any personal ties to it, but it hit me. I was bawling my eyes out by the end. It’s one of those shows – you really take the experience for what it is.”
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Curt Hansen has a beautiful voice that is put to great use in Next to Normal. Earlier this year, he performed at the NewMusicalTheatre.com launch concert and sang “Open Road” by Nick Blaemire from his musical Glory Days.