Take What You Know And Then Make It Make Sense
Every family is a dysfunctional one. While people say we often attend theatre to escape the trouble of our everyday lives, we often attend the theatre to relate and cope with our daily experiences. From the good to the bad to the ugly, theatre has a way of spotlighting life in stage and moving us through song and dialogue we ourselves often experience. However, this story is a personal one. This is the Goodman family and this is the story of Next to Normal.
Next to Normal is a musical that features a book and lyrics Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. The musical follows the story of a family as they deal with the mother’s bipolar disorder and the continuous disturbance it causes to their everyday lives. The musical also touches upon suicide, drug abuse, grieving, loss and many other subjects anyone can really relate to in today’s society. This show is one of my absolute favorites. From the gut wrenching story line to the incredible music Kitt has provided, Next to Normal is a flawless piece of musical theatre that will be told as a story for many generations in America because this is not the story of just one family, but any family.
This rendition of Next to Normal was an encore performance brought to you by the Once Upon A Time Players in association with Birch Family Camp. The production was originally done over the summer in a small black box theatre on Staten Island. Overall, I did very much enjoy this production of Next to Normal. It was evident how much the cast was connected throughout telling this entire story. It is truly an emotional roller coaster not only for them but those of us who experience it. While there were several points through out the course of the production I wish I had seen it in the smaller venue (Due to spacing and how certain aspects were reading), I think it is safe to say Stackhouse has created his best work yet in Next to Normal.
Jenny Kelly leads the cast as Diane with powerful vocals and gripping performance as the women who can’t control her life which is slowly but surely spinning out on control. It is evident to see how she is destroyed over time emotionally, mentally and physically by the illness that grips her and slowly her entire family. She is especially powerful vocally on “You Don’t Know” and in “Maybe” with Melanie Brook. Ben Bucher plays opposite as Dan and is in just as much pain as Kelly though you may not always be able to tell. He holds strong through out the piece remaining calm and collected until the “I Am The One” reprise when he quite literally lets go and has you captured. It’s wonderful, sad and something you have wanted to experience the entire show.
Melanie Brook stars as the odd and quirky Natalie in the show embodying the character perfectly seeming out of place not only in her family but the world she is somehow stuck in. She delivers a powerful “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” along with the help of her brother and consistently proves throughout the piece just how emotional this journey is for her as well through her strong acting choices. Anthony Colasuonno, who stars as Gabeproved be one of the major highlights of the entire production overall. While he may not seem a Gabe type right off the bat, between his over the top vocals and seductive acting skills, Colasuonno has you hooked whenever he is performing. “I’m Alive” shines as one of the best numbers in the show with Colasuonno’s vocals.
Max King stars as the lovable Henry who proves that people aren’t always what they seem. Keeping Natalie sane but also on her toes during one of the hardest points in her life, King proves himself consistently never giving up on Natalie even if it is just a “Hey” (Over and over again) or with an adorable “Perfect For You”. Robby Haltiwanger is a true crowd pleaser starring as the two doctors, Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden in the production, stealing the show with jokes and insane vocals. He gets to appear in and out throughout the production but you especially enjoy when he gets his solo’s in the “Make Up Your Mind” sequence. Bravo to both of these actors proving the saying true that there are no small parts in theatre, only small actors.
If you’re wondering where the title of this review comes from, I found myself not able to stop thinking about one thing during Next to Normal. While everyone who enters the theatre to see this production is different, by the time everyone leaves they are connected. They are connected in the sense of they are now questioning their life and if they themselves are truly happy. While no one may live a normal life, next to normal is something we all know and can experience. So take what you know and make it make sense because that is the only way to get by.
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