Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: Next to Normal -- The Bushnell

Photo from the Broadway production.

Next to Normal
The Bushnell
By Tom Ktt and Brian Yorgey
Directed by Michael Greif

Summary:
A family tries to cope as the mom, Diana (Alice Ripley), battles bi-polar disorder and depression. She sees doctors (played by Jeremy Kushner), but the constant juggling of medications and treatments takes its toll on Diana as well as everyone else in the family. Daughter Natalie (Emma Hunton) experiments with drugs and a boyfriend, Henry (Preston Sadleir) in an attempt to escape her "normal" home life. Husband Dan (Asa Somers) tries to reach the woman with whom he fell in love, even while their son Gabe (Curt Hansen) pulls her in a different direction.

Highlights:

• The score and lyrics are compelling. The musical won the 2009 Tony Award for best score and musical and the 2010 Pultizer Prize for drama. Ripley, who is starring inthe tour, won the 2009 Best Actress.
• The casting of this tour is great.

Lowlights:
• Ripley is struggling with some severe vocal strain. I fully expected to hear an announcement at intermission that the understudy would continue. She still gives a moving and compassionate performance, but her vocals really miss. Time to rest. Hitting all of those high belts for so long is taking its toll.

• The tour fails to capture the intensity of the Broadway staging. Mark Wendland's set seems compressed and while we get the idea that it is the frame for the family's house, we don't fully realize that it represents the interior of Diana's mind as well. The band plays the score, but doesn't infuse the music with the intense emotions portrayed. The result is a production that lacks cohesiveness to draw the audience into the drama and make it personal. Many will simply think it's, well ... depressing.

Next to Normal runs through April 3. For tickets and information, visit http://www.bushnell.org/.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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