Demanding story requires sensitivity

'Next to Normal' offers rock score, tough topic

Posted 2/25/15

From the start, we commend Town Hall Arts Center for producing a Pulitzer Prize drama, with a rock score — about a difficult subject. “Next to Normal,” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, was nominated for nine 2009 Tony Awards and won three: Best …

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Demanding story requires sensitivity

'Next to Normal' offers rock score, tough topic

Posted

From the start, we commend Town Hall Arts Center for producing a Pulitzer Prize drama, with a rock score — about a difficult subject. “Next to Normal,” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, was nominated for nine 2009 Tony Awards and won three: Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Performance by an Actress (Alice Ripley). In 2010, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It is sensitively directed by the Henry Award-winning Nick Sugar, who again shows his expertise in telling a demanding story. In his notes, he quotes New York Times critic Ben Brantley, who observed: “It is something much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel everything musical.”

“Next to Normal” explores the dynamics of a suburban household that is coping with the mental illness of the mother, Diana. The mix of great love and ongoing response to crisis keeps the audience on edge throughout the production.

But that audience is also treated to a really beautiful score and thoughtful lyrics. The script illustrates the unevenness of the day-to-day life of everyone affected, but particularly the rough time Diana has trying to hold herself together for her family.

Cast members bring strong voices. Lamb's and Langhoff's blend especially well. Jacquie Jo Billings gives a very strong performance as the couple's teenage daughter Natalie, who wants to take control of her own life and is fearful that she may inherit the illness. Ethan Knowles is even-tempered and lovable as her stoner boyfriend, while Josh Bess has the difficult role of brother Gabriel. Jared Ming portrays two doctors with different approaches to Diana's illness, bringing home the frustrations patients feel as one medication after another fails to help.

This unusual work is very much worth seeing/experiencing. Just adjust expectations at the door.

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