BWW REVIEWS: Slow Burn Theatre Forces Audiences to Feel During Emotional NEXT TO NORMAL
Theatre-goers familiar with the familial musical drama Next to Normal would never take their seats expecting a good time. Such is not the purpose of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning piece that divided New York musical theatre fans in half in 2009. Through substantial mixed reviews regarding both performance and composition, even the toughest critic of the show must applaud the effort to bring the abnormal to the stage in a completely relatable way. That is to say, Next to Normal audiences find themselves having deep emotional responses, whether they like it or not, because each family member reflects something relevant in our own lives.
Slow Burn Theatre Company of West Boca is already known for having a penchant for the dark and slightly off-centered musical and has enjoyed a few mostly successful seasons with hits such as Side Show and Sweeney Todd. Therefore, Next to Normal fits perfectly into its mission to produce a different kind of musical theatre, separate from the typical feel-good traditions of a large-scale musical. With a cast of strong local singer-actors, the company breathes life into this challenging piece in such a way that we forget about its technical rigors and are taken on an emotional rollercoaster.
The family unit is led by Sharyn Peoples who plays manic-depressive mother Diana and desperately supportive husband Dan played by Matthew Korinko. The two work wonderfully together and create a relationship we know will never find peace but root for regardless. Peoples relies on her strong vocal chops during the beautifully reflective 'I Miss the Mountains' and magically sings through sobs and tears by the end of 'Why Stay.' Korinko brings a soft sensitivity to Dan that makes their failed marriage even more heartbreaking as he stays completely still while Peoples' nonchalantly exits after 'So Anyway.'
Anne Chamberlain does a fantastic job as their daughter Natalie, an angsty teenager who resents her mother but eerily mirrors her issues. If you aren't already in tears, her resolution to stay by her father's side and strength during his breakdown will surely leave you a complete mess. Bruno Vida is a strong ghost of a dead son Gabe, lingering in shadows and refusing to leave his parent's souls. His 'I'm Alive Reprise' in Act Two is decidedly more creepy than the first and makes us resent his presence rather than mourn his absence. Jason Edelstein finds lighter moments in his cute and naive Henry and Clay Cartland hits the right notes of Diana's unsure doctors playing with medicine.
Most notable in Slow Burn's design of the production is Sean McClelland's stark and intricate layered set. His use of windows and portals left lighting designer Lance Blank a perfect canvas on which to create shadows and colors. Manny Schvartzman's musical magic was evident in ensemble numbers marked with dynamic subtlety and clean vocal blending. While only playing West Boca Performing Arts Center until November 2, this production will be Slow Burn's first transfer to the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center playing November 7-10.