Ga-ga for Go-Go’s in giddy Head Over Heels

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Taylor Iman Jones as Mopsa (center) and the company perform “We Got the Beat,” the opening number of the new musical Head Over Heels, which features songs by the Go-Go’s. (below) Peppermint (center) is Pythio, The Oracle of Delphi, in the number “Vision of Nowness.” Photos by Joan Marcus

My love for the Go-Go’s began with my first Sony Walkman and the first cassette I bought to play in that Walkman: “Beauty and the Beat,” the debut album from the Go-Go’s featuring “We Got the Beat,” “This Town” and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Almost 40 years later, I still have great affection for Belinda, Charlotte, Gina, Kathy and Jane, my first delicious taste of girl power before I even knew what that was.

How thrilling, then, to find the songs of the Go-Go’s fashioned into a fizzy new jukebox musical, Head Over Heels with the inventive concept of folding the punky-poppy ’80s tunes folded into a (greatly) adapted version of Sir Philip Sidney’s late 16th-century Arcadia. You’ve got song and text separated by more than four centuries, so it’s a mash-up of sensibilities with lots of room for cheeky humor and the exploding of gender norms.

All of that was on display when Head Over Heels opened April 18 at the Curran theater, but a lot has changed since the show’s first production three years ago at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The whole creative team, headed by director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Hedwig on Broadway), is new, including book writer James Magruder, who replaces Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), who conceived this wacky idea in the first place. There’s a whole village of producers ahead of the title, including the Curran’s Carole Shorenstein Hays and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow, and an opening date on Broadway looming in the very near future (July).

As the out-of-town tryout before heading to Broadway, the production at the Curran reveals a show that is fizzy and fun (especially for those of us ga-ga for Go-Go’s) but with work still to be done before a New York bow to make the show really come together.

Sidney’s Arcadia surfaces here mostly to provide framework for a road trip comedy as the royal family of Arcadia attempts to outrun a doomsday prophecy by journeying to Bohemia. Otherwise, this is a pretend period comedy with a checklist of modern issues to address: lesbian love, inept men yielding power to more competent women, trans people achieving god-like status, certain body shapes subverting other body shapes to dismantle the beauty standard, cross-dressing men who access the divine female within and on and on. As checklists go, that’s a pretty great one, but you can feel the effort behind each tick mark.

With the Go-Go’s fueling the party (and an all-female band headed by Kimberly Grigsby that, unfortunately, we don’t get to see until the curtain call), there’s a mighty girl power vibe emanating from the stage, and that’s fantastic. Nothing against the male members of the cast, but how great would it be to go all the way and make this an all-woman cast. The original text is a relic from the 16th century when women weren’t allowed on stage, so let’s make up for some lost ground and just set the women loose on all the roles.

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And let’s make the band visible for all of the show’s 2 1/2-hours while we’re at it, which might mean eighty-sixing the flat “pastoral” set pieces by Julian Crouch, which, at best, feel like they’re borrowed from an old tour of Kiss Me Kate.

As is, Head Over Heels feels too polite and could use a little anarchy, some punk-lite to rough up the edges and make songs like “Lust to Love” and “Skidmarks on My Heart” and “Automatic Rainy Day” come to life even more. This is an enjoyable show, but I craved something bolder, edgier and even more cranked up.

The Go-Go’s songs sound great (music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Kitt), and because they’re not theater songs, they don’t carry a lot of emotional weight (and sometimes don’t fully make sense, but who cares?). The title song, for instance, “Head Over Heels,” is a zippy Act 2 opener in which couples frolic. The more apt title for the show might be “We Got the Beat,” the show’s opener and a rather belabored attempt to tell us how Arcadia is special because of its passionate pulse or, if you will, its beat. At a certain point in the plot, Arcadia loses its beat, and the bright, jewel-toned colors of Kevin Adams’ lighting design fade and the stage goes blah. So keeping the beat is central to the show – why not the title?

What is most definitely not blah here is the cast, even when the material lets them down (like the entire ending). As the king and queen, Jeremy Kushnier and Rachel York get to be adulterous (with each other, no less), though it takes too long for us to hear York let loose with her glorious voice. She also gets saddled with an eye-roller of a monologue (about that elusive beat) that she conveys with such poignancy that it actually works.

As sisters Pamela and Philoclea, Bonnie Milligan and Alexandra Socha respectively get to explore vanity and sincerity. Pamela has to figure out why her hordes of suitors leave her so cold, while Philoclea wrestles with her love for a humble shepherd, Musidorus (Andrew Durand), an inappropriate match for a princess. Durand gets to do some major cross-dressing as an Amazon warrior, and he is as hilarious as he is endearing. He even makes the song “Mad About You” (not, technically, a Go-Go’s song but a solo hit for Belinda Carlisle) sweet instead of schmaltzy.

Taylor Iman Jones oozes charm as Mopsa, a narrator of sorts who breaks the fourth wall to move the plot along when necessary, and a major player in one of the romances. And then there’s Peppermint, the second-runner-up in Season Nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race, playing Pythio, the Oracle of Delphi, savoring every quip and ounce of attitude the role has to offer.

The entire ensemble works hard to keep the energy level up, and if choreographer Spencer Liff’s moves are heavy on the hand-jive, there’s still a lot of verve, though not a lot of meaning.

After a dud of an ending, Head Over Heels cranks up the volume for the curtain call, reveals (at long last) the band at the back of the stage and invites the audience to get on their feet because they know we can dance to the beat. We may not jump and get down, but we can go round and round and round the idea that this is a show still finding itself, though it has most definitely got the beat.

Head Over Heels continues through May 6 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $29-$175. Call 415-358-1220 or visit

If/Then? No/Thanks.

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Idina Menzel (center) and members of the original Broadway cast perform Tom Kitt and Briany Yorkey’s If/Then at the Orpheum Theatre as part of the SHN season. Below: Menzel as Elizabeth and James Snyder as Josh work through a timeline. Photos by Joan Marcus

If/Then is not a musical I like much. I saw it on Broadway because I was enthusiastic about creators Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey after their powerhouse effort on Next to Normal (a show that I had problems with but admired). My reaction – meh – was very much the same when I saw If/Then in its touring incarnation featuring much of the original cast, including star Idina Menzel.

There are some pretty melodies, good songs and affecting moments in the show, primarily courtesy of an excellent cast working hard to make something of this rather mushy tale. The choreography is ridiculous and constantly calls attention to itself in this contemporary tale of real-life, grown-up relationships and the choices we make. Imagine the TV show “thirtysomething” mashed up with the Ernest Flatt Dancers from “The Carol Burnett Show” and you’ll get an idea of what the show actually looks like. Watching the touring production at the Orpheum Theatre, part of the SHN season, I couldn’t help think that Kitt and Yorkey were attempting to do what Stephen Sondheim and George Furth were doing in Company and that is use music to slice open the complex emotions of being a functioning adult in society, making relationships with friends, lovers, family while trying to realize your true self. During the seemingly endless number that ends Act 1, “Surprise,” about two birthday parties (everything in the show is in twos thanks to its Sliding Doors parallel lives gimmick), the edgy, surprising brilliance of Company kept flashing through my brain while I processed the wholly uninvolving scene before me. There’s a lot of earnestness here but not much depth or entertainment value.

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The songs simply pour forth in a similar-sounding stream for nearly three hours. A lot of it is appealing but without much emotional heft. Characters seem to be much the same before, during and after the song, so there really doesn’t seem to be much point to their bursting into song.

The couple exceptions involve anything sung by LaChanze, who will make anything she sings seem deep, important and transformative. Alas, she doesn’t have much to sing, and when her character does get a big number, “What Would You Do,” primarily in duet with her girlfriend, it gets pretty shrieky (echoing Menzel’s lesbian duet in Rent, “Take Me Or Leave Me,” a much more engaging number).

And the other exceptions are the big solos for Menzel, which, strangely, come four songs apart in the second act. “You Learn to Live Without” is the best character song in the show, a moment when Menzel’s bifurcated character, has a real moment of connection. The other, “Always Starting Over,” is the mega-belt number tailor made for Menzel to please her Wicked and Frozen fans. The song is a showy showstopper customized to showcase Menzel’s incredibly dynamic voice. It’s a classic 11 o’clock number and sets up the ending perfectly, an ending that is almost touching save for the fact that it has taken too much work parsing the two stories (in one Menzel is Liz, the other Beth, one with glasses, one without) and the mild confusion results in mild emotion at the end.

Menzel’s male costars have to wrangle some middling material. Anthony Rapp as an old college flame who has veered more toward the male end of the relationship spectrum, has one decent song, “You Don’t Need to Love Me” and one awful one, “Best Worst Mistake.” James Snyder as the Army doctor whom Liz/Beth meets by chance in Central Park, has a sweet song, “You Never Know,” and one that tries so hard to be sweet it’s just maudlin, “Hey Kid” (a Maltby-Shire rehash that was on the corny side the first time around).

What saves the show is Menzel’s star power. Neither of the Liz/Beth parallels is particularly interesting, but she brings humor, charisma and, of course, that voice, to the party, and that’s where the crackle to If/Then (which really seems like it wanted to be called What If?, like the lackluster opening number) begins and ends in this or any other timeline.

[bonus interview]
I interviewed Idina Menzel about her work on If/The for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the story here.

If/Then continues through Dec. 6 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $50-$212. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Don’t wanna see no more American Idiot

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Van Hughes (left) is Johnny and Joshua Kobak is St. Jimmy in the Broadway tour of Green Day’s American Idiot now at the Orpheum Theatre. Below: The women of American Idiot work it out: from left, Leslie McDonel, Gabrielle McClinton (Whatsername) and Krystina Alabado, Talia Aaron, Nicci Claspell and Jillian Mueller. Photos by Doug Hamilton

The inevitable homecoming is upon us. The Broadway musical version of Green Day’s American Idiot, which had its world premiere in 2009 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, has returned to the Bay Area as part of the SHN season.

As an employee of Berkeley Rep at the time of the show’s premiere, I was deeply immersed in the world of Green Day, big Broadway producers and a world of expectations riding on the shoulders of this 90-minute rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza. It was a blast to have an inside seat for the creation of such an exciting show. But my vantage point also prevented me from really seeing the show with fresh eyes.

There were things I liked about it and things I didn’t. The Green Day score, especially as orchestrated, arranged and supervised by Tom Kitt, was by far the best part. Kitt succeeded masterfully in capturing the rock pulse of the music and then finding ways to infuse it with range and emotion it didn’t have on record.

I had trouble connecting to the bare-bones story of three 20something friends battling their apathy in the suburbs by attempting to make big life choices. The narrative was cloudy at best, and the dialogue, what little exists, was corny and not very helpful

Of course the show changed and evolved through the Berkeley run and then moved on to Broadway (where it won two Tony Awards, for Christine Jones’ set and Kevin Adams’ lights, of which there are many). Though the show has been tightened and tweaked, my feelings about it remain pretty much the same. It’s a whole lot of flash and energy signifying…if not nothing, then nothing much.

American Idiot mostly makes me feel old, not that I’m so aged I can’t connect with rock music or disaffected young people – I deal with both of those fairly regularly in life and on stage. No, Idiot makes me feel old because the constant movement of Stephen Hoggett’s choreography or the incessant visual noise of Darrel Maloney’s projections on what seems like three dozen TV screens gets on my nerves rather quickly. There’s so little story to distract me and so much unfocused anger that I grow weary of a show that’s really just a more carefully directed rock concert. And rock concerts are fine, but they’re not Broadway musicals.

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Director Michael Mayer, who did such thrillingly detailed work with Spring Awakening is going bigger, louder, brasher here. The book, which Mayer co-wrote with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong is still the show’s weakest element. I simply don’t care enough about Johnny (Van Hughes), Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) or Will (Jake Epstein) to become fully immersed in the world of the show. The strongest story of the three belongs to Tunny, who joins the army and heads off to the Middle East, but more stage time is given to Johnny and his downward spiral into the world of big city hedonism and drug addiction (thanks to the powerful influence of St. Jimmy, played by Joshua Kobak as if he were visiting from The Rocky Horror Show).

Without a strong connection to story, the music is just the music rather than a deeper story element or emotional connection between audience and character. But the music is mostly fantastic, so there are pleasures to be had as this wildly energetic young cast wails their way through the Idiot roster. Musical director/keyboardist Jared Stein whips his five-piece, on-stage band into a respectable frenzy, especially during “Holiday,” a highlight, and the rousing title song.

I enjoyed Jarran Muse’s performance of “Favorite Son” and found the flying sequence – an injured man’s “I Dream of Jeanie” fantasy – beautifully executed by Campbell and Nicci Claspell. Hughes’ performance of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was almost moving, and Gabrielle McClinton’s lead on “Letterbomb” generated some real fire.

There’s plenty to enjoy in this 90-minute musical, but it feels like fast food. In and out easily and not much nutritional value. There’s even a slightly dated feel to the proceedings, like finding yourself at a punk carnival where no one really wants to be.

[Bonus interviews]

I talked to director Michael Mayer about how American Idiot changed from opening day to Broadway to the tour for Theatre Bay Area. Read the interview here.

I also talked to Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Kitt about his extraordinary work translating the Green Day music for the Broadway stage for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read the interview here.

Green Day’s American Idiot continues through July 15 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $31-$100. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Spirit but no soul in loud Bring It On musical

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CHEER UP AND SING OUT! The company of Bring It On, a mediocre new musical based on the movie of the same name. Photo by Michael Lamont. Below: Adrienne Warren as Danielle is the best thing about Bring It On: The Musical. Photo by Craig Schwartz

Like a weak episode of “Glee” shot up with steriods and stuffed full of anti-depressants, Bring It On: The Musical sends up a rousing cheer for the robotic vapidity of the new Broadway. The real shame about this overblown movie-to-stage adaptation is that it’s chock full of appealing, talented and boundlessly energetic young performers, but their sparkling humanity is mostly lost in the non-stop machine of this depressingly mechanical, surprisingly shrill effort (a part of the SHN season).

Targeted to an age range of teens to twentysomethings who slavishly recite lines from the 2000 movie starring Kirsten Dunst as a beleaguered cheerleading squad captain, this musical has a startling pedigree: direction and choreography by Tony-winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights), book by Tony Award-winner Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q and the lamentable Tales of the City) and music by Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), who also co-wrote the lyrics with Amanda Green (High Fidelity). You’d think among this heavily lauded crowd of artists that someone could have located a little heart or a moment of actual human connection. But no. This is musical by committee, and a strenuous effort it seems to have been.

It’s all as highly programmed as the four giant video screens floating around the stage and pretending to be a set and only slightly more interesting.

Whitty’s book diverges almost completely from the movie, settling instead for a watered down All About Eve re-tread that sends cute, blond Campbell (Taylor Louderman) from the comfort of her cheer-happy suburban high school into an inner-city school where there are metal detectors, hip kids of color and – gasp – no cheerleaders. Everybody learns to respect and love everybody even amid the tension of a national cheer competition. It all ends, quite literally, in a multicultural group hug.

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Nothing rises above the cartoon level here, which would be fine if the cartoon were fun. But there’s a pall of sameness over the whole enterprise. The stage, loaded with lighting grids and those annoying floating screens, looks more pop concert than musical theater, and it is cold, cold, cold. There’s absolutely no texture to this show at all, and that’s part of the overriding problem. The machine spins with super efficiency but never gains any traction – there’s no feeling other than brash cheerfulness and occasional flashes of bitchiness.

The Kitt-Miranda score is blandly funky, if that’s even possible. It’s pleasant enough in the theater (and certainly LOUD enough) but immediately forgettable. Miranda previously took us to hip musical theater heights, but here it’s mostly lows. There aren’t any song titles in the program (other than for the pre-recorded songs played during the actual cheer routines), and that seems fitting because they all blur together anyway. The voices all blare effectively but with no discernible emotion.

Same is true for the choreography, all very proficiently performed but just empty movement. The cheer routines are spectacular, especially at first. This could easily be called Back Flip: The Musical because that’s the go-to make-’em-squeal move. The first few times women are thrown into the air, spinning madly, it’s thrilling. But soon, as the old song says, the thrill is gone. The moves are just performed over and over with no attempt to let us into the process, see the routines being built or getting a sense of the danger involved. Are the people being flipped ever scared? Are the people who catch them ever afraid of missing?

Whatever, the moves were executed flawlessly at Wednesday’s opening-night performance at the Orpheum Theatre, and it got old. Fast.

Say this for the actors: they’re in extraordinary shape and they work their butts off trying to make this material work. The best thing about the show is Adrienne Warren’s appealing, vocally assured performance as Danielle, the de facto queen of Jackson High and leader of a hip-hop crew. Louderman’s Campbell is appealing as well but overwhelmed by the mechanics of the show. Ryann Redmond has the unenviable job of playing Bridget, the fat girl relegated to school mascot until she changes schools and becomes the object of much affection. Redmond is sweet and funny, but her character’s empowerment lesson feels like an unsuccessful attempt to break out of stereotype. Gregory Haney shows real flash as teen drag queen La Cienega but has precious little do other than strike sassy poses and look fabulous.

Forget about back stories or context or remotely real-life high school issues like homework, parents, sex or actually cheering for athletic events. This is all slick surfaces where nothing sticks. It’s definitely a problem when you leave a new musical humming video screens and back flips.

[bonus video]
To give you a sense of what the show looks and sounds like. Loud and flashy.

Bring It On: The Musical continues through Jan. 7 at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco. Tickets are $31 to $100. Call 888-746-1799 or visit

Ripley, believe it or not, still rocks Normal

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Jeremey Kushnier (left), Alice Ripley (center) and Asa Somers star in the national tour of Next to Normal at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Below: Tony Award-winner Ripley sings her plaintive aria, “I Miss the Mountains.”Photos by Craig Schwartz

When I saw Next to Normal on Broadway, I was of two minds. For much of the first act, I glowered in my seat, overwhelmed by the Tom Kitt/Brian Yorkey score – too many lyrics, loud music of the pop-rock-showtune mega-mix variety and super-slick storytelling and direction by Michael Greif.

But somewhere in Act 2, I got completely caught up in the story of Diana, a bipolar woman whose illness has dominated and in some ways warped her husband, Dan, and their 16-year-old daughter, Natalie. From the song “Maybe (Next to Normal),” a duet for mother and daughter, to the end of the show, I was in tears.

It was the story more than the staging that got to me, and it wasn’t so much the music but the characters and the choices they make that was ultimately so moving.

So I left with the question: why does this show have to be a musical? The Pulitzer committee didn’t seem to mind when they handed out awards.

Now having seen the show a second time courtesy of the national tour at the Curran Theatre, part of the SHN/Best of Broadway season, I’m wondering less about the music and more about the way the story is over-told.

Mark Wendland’s three-level set is essentially a construction site. It’s a metal framework full of rock concert lights (designed by Kevin Adams) and sliding panels that give the impression of a “normal” suburban household. We learn that Diana and Dan were both architecture students, which may also explain the construction site.

The three levels, shallow though they may be, certainly allows Greif to move his cast around in dynamic ways. Curt Hansen, who plays the enigmatic and somewhat menacing Gabe, leaps from level to level like a gymnast going for the gold. The tiers can also be read as levels of mental stability. The ground floor is the most grounded in reality. The middle level is dangerous purgatory where you can go either way. And the tippy top is “abandon sanity all ye who enter here.”

Normal 1This is an intimate story told with only six actors (one of whom plays several parts). The band (under the direction of Bryan Perri) is larger by two players. Though there’s musical staging by Sergio Trujillo, it’s not a dance show. There’s razzle-dazzle, but there doesn’t really need to be.

The creative team seemed to fear that this small-scale story could be static, so they amped it up to glitzy Broadway levels, and the result is machine like and distancing.

That’s why Alice Ripley’s central performance as Diana is so extraordinary. She won a Tony for the role because she’s the aching human center of this machine. On tour, her performance is still brave in its vulnerability, though she is relying on vocal tricks to manipulate a somewhat ragged voice. She has several vocal ticks that warp certain vowel sounds, but her acting is impeccable. She’s funny and raw and (aside from her too-cute clothes and haircut) utterly believable as a woman losing control of herself.

I actually liked Asa Somers as Dan more than J. Robert Spencer on Broadway. Dan is a tricky role to pull off because he’s the “boring” one. He’s the rock on which the rest of the family leans. But he has his own issues, as we see in the revealing reprise of “I Am the One” toward the end of the show, a duet with the limber and strong-voiced Hansen.

Emma Hunton as Natalie reveals a gorgeous voice, and though her character’s descent from nose-to-the-grindstone good girl to pill-popping clubber is only sketched in at best, she makes a strong impression. There’s nice chemistry between Hunton and Preston Sadleir as nerdy stoner Henry, a stalwart teen whose heart she has, somewhat inexplicably, captured.

In the role of Diana’s doctors – a psychopharmacologist and psychiatrist who eventually prescribes ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) – Jeremy Kushnier gets to be a rock star and a member of the (perhaps evil) medical establishment. It’s nice to see Kushnier back on stage at the Curran, where he played Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys.

With such a sturdy cast executing the material, I come back to my dilemma: why do I fight this musical so strenuously before getting sucked into it? I appreciate that Yorkey and Kitt have created such a serious musical and are aiming for depth and emotion. But as much as I enjoy some of the songs in context – “I’m Alive,” “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” – the score never captured my imagination as much as it blasted my brain. Like a jolt of electricity.


Next to Normal continues through Feb. 20 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $33-$99. Call or visit

Chatting with Normal’s Superboy

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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.”

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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.”


Next to Normal runs Jan. 25 to Feb. 20 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets start at $30. Call 888 SHN 1799 (888 746 1799) or visit



Curt Hansen has a beautiful voice that is put to great use in Next to Normal. Earlier this year, he performed at the launch concert and sang “Open Road” by Nick Blaemire from his musical Glory Days.