Theatre in the Park’s production of Next to Normal has a lot of promise. It bursts immediately to life with a fabulous musical number, showing what looks like a typical family going about its daily life. The audience will soon see, however, that the family is far from normal. The mother, Diana, powerfully portrayed by Jessika Brust, is suffering from a mental disorder, and her entire family is affected by it.
While mental problems might seem a strange topic for a musical, it’s done as well as it can be done here, thanks in large part to a strong and gifted cast. Kelsey Walston’s Natalie, the teenage daughter of the family, is particularly memorable, showing realistic teenage angst, rage, and fear that she will be just like her mother. And Diana’s sad but ever-faithful husband, Dan, is given just the right touches by Kenneth Griggs. Several poignant songs, such as “I Miss the Mountains,” and “He’s Not Here,” go a very long way in drawing the audience into the sad world of the family.
Stellar performances and great vocal talents, unfortunately, were almost completely obliterated by sound issues at Saturday’s show. A crackling noise could be heard at various points throughout the production, and at many times, key lines were inaudible, either due to non-working microphones or other issues. Each time a sound issue occurred, audience members were forced out of the world of the play and into reality, making for a sadly non-engaging night of theatre and for a lot of whispering—“What did he/she say?” was commonly hissed around the theatre.
There are other problems with the show itself, though not the fault of this production. Next to Normal is somewhat unbalanced, as if unsure of what its overall message is. The second act is disappointingly predictable, and it’s hard to truly care about what happens to the main character. The audience does not get nearly enough “real” time with Diana or enough glimpses of her “good” side to sympathize much with her plight. Natalie is a far more compelling character, and her second act storyline is much more interesting and watchable. Another major fault is the fact that, throughout, there are no moments to breathe, even between the most intense of scenes. Perhaps the writer wants the audience to identify with Diana’s inescapable mental illness, but it still doesn’t work. There is no time to digest or contemplate, and as a result, Cody Cunningham’s staging is and has no choice but to be frenzied, frantic, and overwhelming.
With that said, there is still a lot of good here, and the show is worth a view, especially if the sound issues get sorted out soon. Next to Normal is a unique show and while not perfect does touch on an important issue and is realistic enough that it may hit all too close to home for some.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/09/10/2331680/tip-handles-tough-topics-in-next.html; and Sept. 7th Raleigh, NC News 14 Caolina interview with Ken Griggs and Kelsey Walston, conducted by Marti Skold: http://triangle.news14.com/content/663673/in-depth–theatre-in-the-park. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of Triangle Theater Review’s Sept. 8th preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/09/tip-presents-the-2009-tony-award-and-2010-pulitzer-prize-winning-musical-next-to-normal/.)
Theatre in the Park presents NEXT TO NORMAL at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13-15, 3 p.m. Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22, and 3 p.m. Sept. 23 in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $28 ($22 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919/831-6058 or http://www.etix.com/.
The Musical: http://www.nexttonormal.com/ (official touring production) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Next_to_Normal (Wikipedia).
Tom Kitt: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/tom_kitt/ (American Theatre Wing) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Kitt_(musician) (Wikipedia).
Brian Yorkey: http://americantheatrewing.org/biography/detail/brian_yorkey (American Theatre Wing) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Yorkey (Wikipedia).