Written by Daniella Litvak
Next to Normal is the gripping story of an American woman named Diana Goodman and her family’s struggle with her bipolar disorder. In rock n’ roll fashion we are treated to the various effects the disorder has on herself and the people around her. In both tone and message the show manages to fit in with other rock musicals/operas like The Who’s Tommy or Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Some of the larger differences between the shows have to do with the fact that Tommy and The Wall can give their audiences comfort in that the horrors visited upon their protagonists are so absurd, so surreal, they feel unlikely to happen in real life. What makes Next To Normal so dark is that the Goodman family feel like people who make up our normal, everyday lives–and the tragedies they experience could happen to anyone.
For what it’s worth, the show tries to end as optimistically as possible. However, one still leaves feeling emotionally exhausted. So if you are looking for a light-hearted romp or an escapist fantasy, this isn’t the show to see. On the other hand, don’t let the fear of angst make you miss out on a really good show.
Next To Normal is almost non-stop singing. For the most part this works, but a few abrupt transitions occur, and it sometimes muddles the story. The good news is that the songs themselves are pretty remarkable. Whether heartwarming or heartbreaking, they stick in your head. My particular favorites are “I Am The One” and “I’m Alive.”
The vocal performances are amazing. Though, occasionally the music is louder than the the singing, this is not the norm. The majority of the time, the entire cast delivers powerhouse performances.
Everyone feels natural in their respective roles, and the chemistry among each other was strong. Towards the beginning of the show Henry (Jonathan Fierros) professes his love to Natalie (Kat Ljubic), the Goodman’s teenage daughter. Warning bells go off. Will this be another one of those tackily attached romances? Luckily Fierros and Ljubic bring enough charisma and talent to win me over.
The set consists of a series of stairs and platforms resembling the frame of a house. The platforms enabled the actors to sing at different levels, making it easier to see the parallels between the romantic couples. The stage’s austerity also allows for a greater appreciation of the lighting. (Though there are a few moments when the lights shine directly in your eyes).
Next To Normal does come with some side effects: emotion, exhaustion, and some moisture in your eyes. You may want to discuss it with someone to prevent bottled up feelings.
June 18th – July 12th 2015