Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: Next to Normal -- Seven Angels

Semina De Laurentis and Victor Hernndez. Photo: Paul Roth
Next to Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music Director Zachary Ryan
Directed and Choreographed by Janine Molinari; Assistant Director: John T. Lynes; Costumes by Three-J's Stitching
Seven Angels Theatre

What's It All About?
Just a typical American family. Mom Diana (Seven Angels' Atristic Director Semina De Laurentis) makes lunch sandwiches for her loving husband, Dan (Victor Hernandez) and daughter, Natalie (Mandy Thompson) while gazing adoringly at her son, Gabe (Brett Stoelker), but from the first twisted chord of Tom Kitt's music, it's clear that not everything is normal in this suburban home. Diana, in fact, suffers from bipolar disorder, and when she stops taking her meds, her behavior affects everyone around her.

Dan tries to keep things together and pretends everything will be normal. Natalie feels neglected and loses herself in her studies, new boyfriend, Henry (Johnny Newcomb), and drugs while Gabe encourages his mother to stay off her meds. When the drugs don't seem to work, the doctor (Daniel C. Levine) suggests an even harsher treatment: shock therapy.

What are the Highlights?
Kitt's score and Brian Yorgey's book and lyrics combine for one of the deepest and moving shows to hit a Broadway stage. It's not the typical subject matter for a musical (the theater suggests that it is appropriate for children 16 and up), but you should take advantage of an opportunity to see this excellent rock musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. That sandwich-making scene in the opening act is terrific as directed by Janine Molinari with De Laurentis skillfully portraying the frenzied breakdown as Diana tries to cope. Later she also belts out a lovely version of "I Miss the Mountains." Hernandez conveys love and confusion (especially in singing the song "He's Not Here.") Thompson lends a full range of vocal ability and Stoelker is spot-on (could have sworn I was watching original Broadway cast member Aaron Tveit) as the boy who pulls his mother deeper into the darkness. He nails "I'm Alive."

Two elderly women bopping to the beat of the exit music.

What are the Lowlights?
Sound (Matthew Martin, design). Voices don't blend well, there is popping in the speakers and everyone is shouting. The tempo is off at times. Lighting (Matt Guminski, design) is too dim. Yes, we get that the lighting reflects Diana's moods, but sometimes she's feeling a little too dark for us to see what's going on in the two levels of the house (Erik D. Diaz, scenic design). Because the house is built out of frames on such a small stage, it looks as though Natalie and Henry are practicing music on top of the roof instead of in a studio.

More information:
Next to Normal runs through June 9 at Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury. Tickets: http://sevenangelstheatre.org/.

Special events:
Sweet Maria’s Night, May 31
Fascia’s Chocolate Night, June 1
Wine & Martini Night, June 7
Sundaes on Sunday June 9

There will be a talk back session Sunday, June 9 after the performance with a panel facilitated by the Wellmore Group. The discussions will include a Q&A session about mental health and its impact on people and families, and about the mental health issues portrayed in the show.

(No performances Memorial Weekend, May 23-27)

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

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