By Melissa Rose Bernardo
Updated August 30, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Joan Marcus

No one envies the actor charged with following the original star of a Broadway show. But taking over for Alice Ripley, who had been with Next to Normal from its Off Broadway debut, to its subsequent substantially altered production at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, on through its Broadway premiere — where it won three Tony Awards, including Best Actress for Ripley — well…Marin Mazzie has it a little tougher than most replacements. Which makes her commanding performance as manic-depressive suburban mom Diana all the more impressive.

Mazzie has been doing standard-issue leading-lady roles for most of her career (see: Passion, Ragtime, and Kiss Me, Kate), yet it’s only in the past few years that she’s really had the chance to cut loose: riffing American Idol-style as the Lady of the Lake in the Monty Python romp Spamalot; having sex with Jeffrey Skilling (Norbert Leo Butz) on a desk in last season’s short-lived oddity Enron. Now she gets to roll around on a gurney, sing her way through shock therapy, and belt folksy odes to bipolar disorder (”I Miss the Mountains,” the standout of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s sensational Tony-winning score). She also gets to play opposite her off-stage husband, Jason Danieley, who’s stepped in to portray Diana’s husband/caretaker, Dan. Danieley still seems to be adjusting to Normal‘s contemporary style — his forte is more a traditional tuner like Curtains or Candide — but on stage, he and Mazzie make a wonderfully mismatched couple. They so perfectly capture Dan and Diana’s disconnect you’d never guess that they’re married in real life. A-

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