When I think of musicals, I think of lighthearted, many times comedic, themed productions whose entertainment value at times may overshadow the intended meaning of the play. In the Gallery Players production of Next to Normal written by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, this is far from the case. Next to Normal’s entertainment value is perfectly aligned with its profound and currently relevant themes. From suffering through severe depression while struggling to maintain a happy marriage and family to the effects of prescription medications, Next to Normal brings into focus each family members personal struggle. While each family members coping methods may seem off-kilter at first glance, a deeper look into their struggle reveals a better understanding of their decisions which I believe makes this production a much needed eye opener to such delicate familial matters.
A truly beautiful story about the struggle of life and love.
With minimal props, very detailed stage blocking and a live band, director Michael Bello maintains the intensity of this production while offering just the right amount of entertaining theatrics. From the simple things, such as the creaking steps in the home to the complexity of varied scenes playing out simultaneously to parallel certain situations and of course the wonderful talent of the entire cast, this production is chock full of compassioned charm.
Next to Normal tells the story of a mother, Diana, played by Carman Napier, struggling with severe depression while attempting to maintain some sort of normalcy within her family. While her husband, Dan, played by Chris Caron, does everything in his might to help her fight her depression, he also is battling a deep feeling of loneliness that only someone in his situation can experience.
While husband and wife seek out various treatments for her severe depression, their high achieving daughter, Natalie, played by Lindsay Bayer, is feeling left out and even seems to harbor a resentment towards her family for not being “normal.” Luckily, she ends up meeting a boy in her school, Henry, played by John Wascavage, who helps her to cope with her stress. Diana and Dan also have a son, Gabe, played by Luke Hoback, who is a haunting reminder of their past and more importantly the catalyst of the mother’s depression. The beauty of this production is that though no definitive answers or remedies seem to be found for any of the characters, a feeling of content and even hope pervades through each one of them thereby accepting their next to normal family situation.
Carman Napier is wonderful in the role of the mother. Her intense scenes are emotionally charged and she successfully emotes her character’s struggle of wanting to overcome her mental sickness. Napier’s intensity is matched with that of Chris Caron who plays her husband. Caron presents his character’s strong will to help his wife so well that I empathized with his desire to care for her. Lindsay Bayer plays the ever so memorable daughter, Natalie. Bayer stands out as the daughter who seems to not care and even appears bothered by her family’s situation, though she is secretly crying out for attention. She is wonderful to watch, especially when she begins to expose the truth about her character. Yes, I even got a bit teary eyed watching her act, but she is darling to watch!
Another memorable character is the son, Gabe, played by Luke Hoback. Hoback brings the intensity into his character that makes the other actors react to him so well. Since his character is the root for the family’s stress it is captivating to watch him act differently with each family member as he has a different agenda for each one of them. Hoback is certainly one to watch throughout this production.
Next to Normal is a wonderfully written and performed musical that entertainingly acts as a much needed microscope into the lives of those dealing with mental illness and the effects it has on family and friends. It also highlights the importance of knowing that there is no definitive definition for the word “normal.” This is a magnificent show that brings me back to the reality of life. A truly beautiful story about the struggle of life and love.
Advisory: Adult Themes
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with 1 Intermission.
Next Normal runs through Oct 5th 2014 at the Gallery Players Theater which is located at 199 14th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215 For more information click here.