NEXT TO NORMAL centers around a family struggling with their matriarch’s worsening bi-polar disorder and potential schizophrenia. As she medicates, then stops, undergoes a controversial treatment, then stops, we watch the world that revolves around her eb and flow through fear, love and loss.
I first saw NEXT TO NORMAL during it’s record breaking national tour, which is still selling out theatres across the United States. The show’s star, Alice Ripley, won a Tony for the role on Broadway and brought that same energy to the tour when it stopped at PlayhouseSquare in 2011. I thoroughly enjoyed the huge production. The multi tiered, intelligent lighting wired, RENT-esque, visible band, visually stunning set really popped. The set at Lakeland Civic Theatre, designed by Trad A. Burns takes no cues from the Broadway staging and is arguably, more complex. It focuses on the themes of light, and the threads that connect all of us. The set helps tell the story in a big way and adds an elegant controlled chaos to the show. The theatre at Lakeland Community College is intimate and comfortable and puts every seat very close to the action.
The night I attended, the show opened with a few minor audio glitches, namely in the mix between the microphones and orchestra, but the issues were quickly corrected and not a huge problem. I had forgotten how brilliant the operetta style book is and was immediately drawn into the incredible story. The at times hilarious, and other times painful script flows beautifully from beginning to end and pulls you kicking and screaming through the difficult subject matter, especially during act two. In my notes I wrote:
“Act Two opens with a bang then rips your heart out with ‘Sing A Song of Forgetting.’ This is definitely not a frothy, feel good musical.”
The second act is completely unrelenting and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house on Saturday night.
Amiee Collier is hands down the star of this show. She plays Diana with a painful perfection that will (on several occasions) bring you to tears. She is clearly in the prime of her career and played the role on the same level as the aforementioned Tony winner. Her vocals are commanding and powerful. As the show goes on, she loses herself in the character, it’s truly astounding to watch.
Her husband, Dan is played by Rick McGuigan who is absolutely heart wrenching to watch as he suffers through unimaginable pain and the difficult decisions a spouse must make. Ben Donahoo is remarkable as Gabe, his vocals are spot on and his innocent stage presence captures the essence of the role. Emma Wahl and Pat Miller are perfect as Natalie and Henry, both are vocally commanding and strong in their roles. Timothy J. Allen does an incredible job representing pretty much the entire medical community in his two roles. You’ll crack up when he is a ‘scary rock star.’
The vocals are tight, the music is incredible, the subject matter is gut-wrenching, the cast is brilliant, the themes are deep, the staging remarkable and Dr. Martin Friedman’s direction is spot on. NEXT TO NORMAL at Lakeland Civic Theatre is a DO NOT MISS production. Grab tickets and info at LakelandCC.edu.
A quote at the end of the show stuck with me and I struggled through the tears to write it down, “I don’t need a life that’s normal, that’s too far away. But, something next to normal would be ok.”