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Oh, dear, this is probably going to get me in trouble again...
Posted by: DanielVincent 05:53 pm EST 01/10/21
In reply to: Marrin Mazzie in ‘Next to Normal’ - Gregv212 09:27 am EST 01/10/21

I've previously been chewed out on this board for expressing my negative feelings about Mazzie's performance in Next to Normal, but, since you asked, I'll share my opinion again.

I was excited to see what Mazzie would do with the role. I'd previously seen her as Clara in Passion and Mother in Ragtime—roles that epitomize the type with which I most closely associate her: seemingly "perfect" women who are somewhat tightly wound. I found her performances in both beautifully sung, but somewhat wooden. She was out when I saw Kiss Me Kate (understudy Patty Goble was fantastic), but I did catch her replacement turn in Man of La Mancha and thought, playing against type, she'd never been better. Considering the darkness and inner conflict she captured as Aldonza, I thought she might make a sensational Diana.

Sadly, I found almost everything about her performance in Next to Normal shockingly wrongheaded. Some of it came down to plain miscasting. Next to Normal's score sounds highly contemporary and often veers into rock and pop, which is just not the sound Mazzie's voice generates. She sounded embarrassingly out-of-place. At times, it even reminded me of Bobbi Mulhan-Culp, the middle school music teacher Ana Gasteyer played on Saturday Night Live who would sing pop hits with an inappropriately classical sound. I don't know that there's anything the music director could have done differently to help Mazzie sound better singing the music. I really think it just comes down to her having the wrong voice for the role.

What was even more surprising to me, especially given how involved Michael Greif is with his long-running productions (frequently attending performances and giving his companies notes long after many directors would have left such tasks to their resident directors), was how one-note her acting seemed. Mazzie seemed to cry through the whole show. Diana's sad? She cried. Diana's angry? She cried. Diana's confused? She cried. Diana's apologetic? She cried. It violated the Acting 101 rule of never playing an emotional state.

One of the brilliant aspects of Ripley's take on the role was how ACTIVE it was. You never had the sense that her Diana was succumbing to her emotions. She was always trying to make sense of the world around her or choose how to participate in a reality that didn't make sense, which propelled the story forward. Rather than fight her feelings, Mazzie seemed to give into them, diluting the conflict and depriving Next to Normal of an engine.

When the replacement cast was reviewed, I remember that a few critics (including the NY Times?) said that the show now felt like less of a star vehicle and more of an ensemble piece. I see this shift as having taken place because Mazzie's performance was so consistently at the one level. When everything is pitched the same, even when the emotion feels sincere (as it did), it becomes less interesting/feels more stagnant. I think the other characters took on new importance because they were the only ones to find emotional peaks and valleys.

There are so many actresses that I would have loved to see as Diana. It disappoints me that they were passed over for a bit of casting that was so misbegotten.
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