BWW Reviews: Eagle Theater's NEXT TO NORMAL - Not 'Just Another Day'
Under the direction of Artistic Directors Ed Corsi and Ted Wioncek III this brave, 'feel-kind-of bad" or more aptly "feel everything" musical is the portrait of a manic-depressive mother, the people she loves and the pain that cripples her and prevents a typical suburban family from living a "normal" life.
With an amazing central performance from Krissy Fraelich as Diana Goodman, a housewife with bipolar disorder, this production is a series of "episodes" at the hands of a battery of medications and medical treatments. Fraelich is self consumed into a character that very few can escape from. Transforming herself through fantasies and visions from the past to touching, tender, lucid moments with her family, Fraelich is simply outstanding.
But as one of her two doctors (both stylishly played by Tim Rinehart) says," there is no textbook solution for what she suffers from." As a result its affects are seemingly contagious as Diana's daughter Natalie loses herself in her own private world as a result of the numbing attempt of surviving in a nightmare. Unfortunately she drags her sweet new boyfriend/ stoner Henry (Will Connell, who is both supportive and likable) into this web of insanity. Poor Henry hangs pleasantly sanely by her side insisting that "he can handle crazy and that they are perfect for each other".
Pull back from "Next to Normal," and you start to see that this plot isn't so different from those of dysfunctional-family movies and sadly perhaps some real- life families.
Diana's ever present, ever loyal husband Dan (Brian Bortnick) makes a steadfast and impressive attempt to hold the family in place. The character's quiet cheerful neutrality seems to fade into a man who is slowly erasing himself. Bortnick's performance is touching.
Without giving away the details about what triggers Diana's illness and its impact on the entire family, let's just say that her son Gabe (Adam Hoyak) is played as the teenage son who is both angel and demon to his mother. Hoyak is both charismatic and melancholy and a pivotal part of the production. A standout performance is offered by the young Jordan O'Brien who plays daughter Natalie, a girl who lives in fear both of being invisible to her mother and turning into her mother. Her touching moments with her mom in the real world reveal that "she doesn't expect a normal life but next to normal would be good."
The musical opened on Broadway in April 2009. It was nominated for eleven 2009 Tony Awards and won three, Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley. It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the eighth musical in history to receive the honor. The previous musical to win the Pulitzer was Rent, in 1996.
Accolades aside, I was mentally straining at the musicality of this piece, wishing there were more spoken words to slow down and capture the reality and intensity of emotions. Brian Yorkey's lyrics and Tom Kitt's score - while sustaining the energy of a rock opera such as The Who's "Tommy" and "Spring Awakening", both musicals about love and pain, keeps changing shapes and spectrums of moods with faced- paced jaggedness that sometimes challenges the audience's ability to process all that is happening. While there are a few lovely songs, there are no memorable musical numbers but more a kaleidoscope of music, feelings and madness being transferred from one character to another. None of these are particularly comfortable emotions, yet you are almost drawn into this production.
However, Diana is right when she sings that "you don't have to be happy at all to be happy you're alive." and I guess musicals don't always have to have to bubble with joy to transport an audience as this one does. You walk away (hopefully) from Next To Normal saying "Wow, I really am alright".
Photos: # 1 Krissy Fraaelich and Brian Bortnick ( Diana and Dan) # 2 Will Connell and Jordan O'Brien (Henry & Natalie), # 3 Tim Rinehart and Krissy Fraelich ( Diana & Dr.Fine/Dr. Madden)
Photo Credits: Christopher Miller
NEXT TO NORMAL is playing at the Eagle Theater, 208, Vine St. Hammonton, NJ on selected dates through March 29. For Tickets and more information visit www.theeagletheatre.com or call 609.704.5012