Next to Normal ranks high in the list of modern, rock-centered, boundary-breaking musicals, in the company of RENT, Spring Awakening and American Idiot. The Pulitzer Prize-winning script and score tackle the complexity of living with mental illness and the ramifications of this struggle on her family. The current national tour is remarkable in that audiences around the country are enjoying Alice Ripley (Side Show, etc), who won the Tony Award for originating the leading role on Broadway,which is a rare decision for a Broadway veteran such as Ripley.
Emotions Run Deep in Next to Normal
HE SAID: If you are looking for a quiet night out at the theatre keep looking. While often compared to the above shows due to the style of music; thematically, this show is arguably more similar to the play Rabbit Hole in that they both depict with a family fighting to stay together as they deal with the lasting effects of a terrible loss. Like Rabbit Hole, this show presents the deep raw emotions in a very real way and it makes for an incredibly moving and affective piece of theatre.
SHE SAID: Next to Normal is definitely a piece with some weight to it, but even if you think you might not be in the mood for something with substance, I think that every theatre lover should make an effort to see it. It’s both an exceptional piece of theatre and a significant piece of literature. The story and the score are crafted with incredible care, and the lyrics are a rare combination of being natural, artful and emotionally piercing.
Ripley’s Brilliance Matched by Entire Cast
HE SAID: The amazing experience that is Next to Normal has a lot to do with it being helmed by Alice Ripley. As mentioned earlier, Ripley won the Tony for her time in this role on Broadway and chose to step out of the role to come on tour. Her committment is simply unparalleled and it’s absolutely marvelous to watch her fiercely take on such a dynamic character. It cannot be easy for her to live through the ups-and-downs of her character (who suffers from severe Bi-polar disorder), but Ripley is clearly holding nothing back. That said, the heart-wrenching moments of this show are not found in watching the plight of Ripley’s character, but rather from watching the family members dealing with her afflictions.
SHE SAID: I agree that Ripley delivers an outstanding acting performance in this challenging role, but that the real strength of the production is in the ensemble performance. I saw Ripley perform the role on Broadway, and although the production was quite good, it didn’t touch me nearly as deeply as this touring company. Since Ripley’s performance was the only constant, I have to assume that something about the rest of the cast made the difference (or maybe it’s the altitude). The last 20 minutes of the show are so moving that during every quiet moment I heard the sounds of sniffling, crying, and gasping throughout the audience, so I know we weren’t the only ones who were deeply touched.
Cast Brings Honest Complexities to Life
HE SAID:Asa Somers as the father brought out all of the amazing complexities his character. I felt his pain so deeply as he sang “I Am the One” (especially during that song’s reprise) that I couldn’t hold back my reactions and the waterworks started. Another character I found myself surprisingly connecting with was Henry (the daughter’s love interest) played by Preston Sadleir. I think it has something to do with something Sadleir said during our interview with him (READ HERE), ” I feel like my job up there every night is to perpetuate hope and light in such a dark and heavy setting.” It was beautifully saddening to watch as he tried and tried to bring some life back into this family.
SHE SAID: The men in the cast were also very strong, but in my mind Hunton was a step above the others in terms of her authenticity and seamless connection of the various aspects of her performance. Hunton managed to play the anger and angst while pairing it with a clear longing for love and affection, which brought a lovely multi-dimensional aspect to the character. When she finally received some attention from her mother and sang “Maybe (Next to Normal)” it was almost as if she was being set free and she was finally allowed to feel a sense of joy for once.
Next to Normal is as Amazingly Rare as They Come
THEY SAID: First off, this show has done what only a few musicals have ever done – won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s got an incredible in your face rock score that is perfectly tempered with deeply touching softer moments. It boldly tells a complex story with unabashedly raw emotions and it does it with an almost unparalleled cast of performers. Simply put – this is easily one of the most moving and affective pieces of theatre we have ever seen. Next to Normal shows us almost every emotional aspect of the human condition – from our highest high to lowest lows – making it an experience that won’t come up often, and won’t be soon forgotten. Do yourself a favor and see this show before it leaves town.
For a full plot synopsis and history of Next to Normal, see the wikipedia article. Next to Normal presented by DCA plays through THIS SUNDAY (1/16/11) at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.