On Stage: Next to Normal

You know how at the end of the year the movie studios bring out their oh-so-serious films dealing oh-so-seriously with oh-so-serious subject matter in hopes of garnering critical acclaim and awards? Oh, and to make a serious artistic statement, of course.

You know the type: Family grieving over dead child (“Rabbit Hole”), marriage falling apart (“Blue Valentine”), dying man trying to provide for his children’s future (“Biutiful”). Usually a lot of great acting, but you walk out of the theater feeling suicidal.

Well, imagine if someone took one of those plots and turned it into a Broadway musical.

“Next to Normal,” now playing at the Fox Theatre, is a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning modern rock musical. It’s very powerful and very depressing.

The National Touring Company of Next to Normal.

The show starts out with what appears to be your typical suburban family: stay-at-home mom Diana (Alice Ripley), businessman father Dan (Asa Somers), slacker son Gabe (Curt Hansen) and overachieving daughter Natalie (Emma Hunton). It’s not until Diana starts making sandwiches on the kitchen floor that you begin to think something’s not quite right.

A death in the family years earlier has left Diana unable to cope with reality. Her doctors (both played by Jeremy Kushnier) have tried various forms of therapy — and a plethora of pills — all to no avail.

By intermission, things are so bad that they consider resorting to shock treatment.

Not exactly “Oklahoma!” is it?

If you’d like to see a family torn apart by the effects of mental illness you won’t find a better show for it than “Next to Normal.” The three-level stage setting is inspired, the band is great, and the small cast (the only person I haven’t mentioned is Preston Sadleir, who plays Natalie’s love interest) is great — with one notable exception.

Alice Ripley, who won the Tony Award for Best Actress for playing the lead role on Broadway, was all over the map with her vocals. She started out fine but was noticeably deteriorating throughout the night.

The real standouts in this performance were Emma Hunton and Curt Hansen as the troubled children of Natalie and Dan. They really delivered on their songs and their acting.

Musically the show had a couple of engaging tunes but nothing you’d walk out of the theater humming.  “Next to Normal” isn’t the kind of show you’d make a family tradition out of watching every year, but it’s certainly worth checking out once. If you’re in the right frame of mind.

“Next to Normal” runs through April 24 at the Fox. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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One response to “On Stage: Next to Normal

  1. I wasn’t going to see Next to Normal until I decided to see what kind of seats were available. When I saw there was a front row pit seat I couldn’t turn it down. When i got to the Fox box office to pick up my ticket the lady said I was there one week early. she told me to wait while she checked to see if there was something available for that afternoon’s performance. Five minutes later she came back with a front row pit ticket in the exact center of the theater! I told her I’d take it.

    Great show! Loved the music. In fact, two years ago it beat Elton John’s Billy Elliot music for best score at the Tony Awards. At the end of the show I don’t think I’ve ever seen the crowd come to its feet so fast for the standing “O’. About Billy Elliot…..Saw it on Broadway last January. I was expecting a good show with soome cute kids dancing around. Let me tell you, I was BLOWN away by the show! Especially by the kid who played Billy that evening! Unbelievable! The kid took total control of the stage, even throughout the encores. He did ballet, jazz, tap, cartwheels, flips…GEEZ he was amazing! Anyway, he was pretty good. It’s coming to the Fox in November. Go see it!

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