BWW Review: A Stunning NEXT TO NORMAL Wows!
NEXT TO NORMAL/book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey/music by Tom Kitt/directed by Nancy Keystone/musical direction by Marc Macalintal/David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center for the Arts/thru June 11, 2017
In their current production of NEXT TO NORMAL, the East West Players present a first-rate, extremely well-executed musical look at mental illness. 2009 Tony winners for Best Original Score - Brian Yorkey for lyrics and Tom Kitt for music - would be most proud of this delicious convergence of incredible creative talents that gel so well together (onstage and off). Nancy Keystone smoothly directs this two-hour-plus performance at a steady, non-stop, heart-wrenching pace with barely enough time for the audience to catch their respective breaths or wipe their teary eyes before the next song happens. And the songs happen through the collectively A.MA.ZING voices of the ultra-talented cast of six.
NEXT TO NORMAL tells the story (via smart, witty lyrics) of the bipolar Diana Goodman and the affects her everyday actions and inactions have on the Goodman family.
Deedee Magno Hall utilizes her unwavering vocals, backing it up with her passionate acting expertise, in her most vivid portrayal of Diana. Magno Hall makes you feel every specific pain, each individual heartbreak and the frequent bouts of confusion of a person not fully in control of her mind. Magno Hall's solo on "I Miss the Mountains" simply rips open your heart.
Cliffton Hall nails his role as her very supportive rock of a husband, Dan, having stood by her for years of unnerving episodes. Hall transparently exhibits Dan's devotion and sometimes conflicting frustrations with his mentally unstable wife.
Justin W. Yu embodies the Goodman's teenage son Gabe. Yu's heavenly falsetto's one of the many reasons your eyes don't stay dry. Yu vigorously delivers his defiant "I'm Alive."
Isa Briones imbues her Natalie Goodman with a wonderful combination of teenage angst - feeling neglected and always the not-the-favorite child, being defensive pushing away any offers of friendship, attempting to be the ideAl Goodman daughter. Briones scores in her initial solo "Everything Else."
Scott Kenji Takeda melts your hearts (if not Natalie's) as Henry, Natalie's classmate and persistent suitor. Takeda and Briones' second act duet "Perfect for You" has got to be one of the most romantic, feel-good moments in any show - ever!
Randy Guiaya makes quite an impression in his multiple medical roles, especially complementing his strong vocals with his sharp comic timing as Doctor Madden, a psycho rock star attending to a delusional Diana.
Powerfully sung songs follow in succession right after the other with every combination of wonderful vocal talents - Magno Hall with Briones, Takeda and Hall in "Just Another Day;" Hall with Yu, Takeda and Briones in "It's Gonna Be Good;" Hall and Yu in "I've Been" and "I Am the One;"Guiaya with Hall, Yu, Magno Hall and Briones in "Catch Me I'm Falling;" to name only a few gems.
Musical Director Marc Macalintal (on piano) heads a very solid rock band of Vince Reyes on guitar/keys, Khris Kempis on bass/keys, Takeshi Kato on drums/keys, Yu-Ting Wu on violin/keys and Rebecca Yeh on cello.
Kudos to scenic & projection designer Hana Sooyeon Kim on her clean, versatile two-story set and her very appropriate lightning bolts and stars projections.
Karyn D. Lawrence spot-on lighting design allows for seamless scene changes.
Who would think a show on mental illness could be so entertaining? And a musical yet!
Do go check NEXT TO NORMAL out. Your tearducts will be glad you did.