Review Roundup: Critics Weigh in On David Cromer Helmed NEXT TO NORMAL
Writers Theatre concludes its 2018/19 season with the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, with music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, directed by Tony Award winner David Cromer (The Band's Visit) and music directed by Andra Velis Simon. Next to Normal runs through June 16, 2019 in the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe.
On the outside, The Goodmans seem like the average American family: house in the suburbs, white picket fence and two sharp-witted kids. But inside, their lives are anything but normal, with long-buried secrets that threaten to tear them apart. Featuring powerful lyrics and an electrifying score, this explosive musical uses wry humor and brutal honesty to explore how family trauma can fracture the American Dream, while ultimately leading to a chance at new beginnings.
This deeply moving and captivating American musical took Broadway by storm in 2009, winning three Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Now, Chicago and Broadway director David Cromer returns to WT, where he has directed A Streetcar Named Desire and Picnic, to bring his singularly personal touch to this modern musical where the lines between reality and delusion are never quite clear.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Jesse Green, The New York Times: And though Diana, played by the Chicago actress Keely Vasquez, is still the harrowing center of the show, the story spreads out more evenly to encompass its effects on her husband (David Schlumpf) and daughter (Kyrie Courter). That this happens with no loss of musical value - the full original orchestration is used, and Ms. Vasquez sounds a lot like a less-amplified Ms. Ripley - is a tribute to the delicacy a nonprofit theater allows.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Cromer's take on "Next to Normal" is more raw. He has sheared the Broadway veneer and the narrative flash from the material, cast actors who first and foremost feel like ordinary people who happen to sing, and made his central character, Diana, much less of a Broadway kind of self-actualizing heroine and more of a person who has been struggling and medicated for a very long time. It is a very different and much darker take on that character.
Catey Sullivan, Chicago Sun-Times: Cromer (who won a 2018 Tony for his direction of Broadway's "The Band's Visit") slips up only in the lighting design (by Keith Parham), which puts the entire stage in deep shadow during several crucial scenes. (Blinking a flashlight is not an effective way to depict ECT on stage. But that's a relatively small misstep.)
Aaron Hunt, New City Stage: Director David Cromer's cast brings the characters to life fearlessly and, for the most part, handles the challenges of the music with aplomb. David Schlumpf is heartbreaking as the father who struggles silently with his own depression and denial, burying it all in order to care for his wife, who was diagnosed with a serious illness after failing to recover from the grief of their lost son. As the "invisible" daughter, Kyrie Courter gets it just right, creating a character that looks to have it all together but, due to her outside circumstances, is only a hopscotch jump from a precipice. Liam Oh is terrific as the son who, although suffering death as an infant, continues to grow to near-adulthood in his mother's disoriented mind; he belts insistently and shifts seamlessly from rock to dialogue. This young artist is one to watch.
Rachel Weinberg, BroadwayWorld: Courter has a magnetic energy as Natalie, drawing audiences to her character without pulling too much focus. She delivers Natalie's solo songs with ease, while also mining all the layers in her character's feelings of abandonment. I've also always appreciated that BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Writers Theatre the dynamic between Natalie and Henry adds some needed light to this dark musical, and Courter and Levy really sell that here. The pair's catchy duet "Perfect For You" is a quieter but still powerful moment in the hands of these actors.