Next to Normal has made one of the biggest Broadway splashes in the last decade. What makes it so unique? With complex, multi-faceted characters and a powerful score, it tells an incredibly poignant story about a family struggling through rock bottom in a way that is incredibly cathartic and artistically satisfying. Ignite’s production marks the Denver premiere, starring Margie Lamb, whose was highly praised for playing this same role in the Colorado premiere at Midtown Arts Center.
Ignite Takes Risk on Rock
HE SAID: The first time I saw Next to Normal was the most emotionally affective experience I have ever had in the theatre. The bi-polar disorder is a crucial part of the story as it argues the ups and downs of various treatments, but what resonates, for me, is the family’s loss, pain, and struggle to support each other through the hardest of times. Each person’s distinct journey is heart-breaking, making the finale’s message of hope truly inspiring.
SHE SAID: I am totally with you — the personal connections make it much more broadly appealing than a musical that focuses upon mental illness. The personal struggles make for a very demanding, emotional score. Overall, I was really impressed with the ability of the cast and musicians to keep up with it. Vocally, the entire cast was really talented, and though there were a few missteps, there were more moments where the great music shone through.
Women Steal Spotlight
HE SAID: While each character has an important position in this story, like the mother in the play Rabbit Hole, the weight of show lies on the shoulders of Diana – terrifically play by Margie Lamb. Her depth was matched with appropriately timed comedy and her singing seemed as powerful and dynamic as I could hope for. She was kind of in a league of her own, with Madison Kitchen (who played neglected daughter Natalie) following not too far behind. I think there were times early on in the show where the angst felt a bit forced, but her vocals soared throughout and her character had an incredible development as the story progressed. Her relationship with Henry (played by Alejandro Rolan, who had some wonderful power notes of his own) was really touching as it overcame obstacles.
SHE SAID: I totally agree that Lamb and Kitchen were the highlights of the show for me. Lamb was especially skilled at capturing the rich, multiple facets of Diana – she was funny, brave, confused, and passionate in different turns. As I mentioned above, the men had a lot of vocal talent, but they seemed a bit more stiff physically and not fully relaxed into their respective characters. Zach Stailey as Dan showed great emotional vulnerability in “How Could I Ever Forget”, but I wished I had seen more of that acting potential in him realized during the rest of the performance.
Design Elements Luminous, Inspired
HE SAID: With Next to Normal, Ignite has presented its most beautiful designs to date. All of the elements tied together conceptually and thematically, were very well executed, and supported the story telling. Specifically, the set and lighting, by Mike Uhlenkamp and Rebecca Wootner respectively, worked in tandem, like dance partners creating stunning images. Perhaps surprisingly, I had no issues with the sound. Often times, in that space, the band is tucked away behind the set which leaves sound levels inconsistent. Maybe we just went on a good day, but I found the levels worked well throughout this show.
SHE SAID: The set was gorgeous and very versatile — most of the changes came from a really diverse and effective lighting design. My only complaint is that some of the transitions (mostly lighting changes) were a bit more abrupt than they needed to be. Also, a few of the staging choices seemed strange to me – especially the degree to which characters sat or stood with their backs to the audience. But overall, because of all of those elements, there were many gorgeous visual pictures created.
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Ignite Hits the Highs of Next to Normal
THEY SAID: We know a guy who saw the Broadway version of this musical and laughed the entire way through, thinking the production was terrible. We saw it and thought it was the most emotionally affective experience we have ever had in a theater. To each his own. For us, what Ignite offers is a capable telling of a richly complex and deeply challenging story. Getting a chance to see Margie Lamb play this role is worth the price of admission alone. Madison Kitchen is outstanding amongst a supporting cast that each has their own wonderful moment. With a visual design concept that raises the bar for the company, Next to Normal is arguably their most successful show, artistically speaking, to date.