BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at the Kennedy Center is Exceptional

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BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at the Kennedy Center is Exceptional

Want a great alternative to Super Bowl Sunday? Head to the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower for the Broadway Center Stage production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical NEXT TO NORMAL. Broadway Center Stage performances are presented in a semi-staged concert format and actors may carry scripts in hand for various scenes of the performance but on this occasion, no one had a script and it was just like watching a typical Broadway show with a set that looked very much the original set on Broadway designed by Tony nominee Mark Wendland and adapted by the great Paul Tate dePoo III.

I remember seeing the 2008 pre-Broadway production at the Arena Stage in Chrystal City, VA (while the new theater was being renovated) starring Alice Ripley (Diana Goodman) and Aaron Tveit (now starring in Broadway's MOULIN ROUGE). I also saw the 2011 touring production at the Kennedy Center also with Ripley.

This 2020 version is just as fabulous with a cast that matches the Broadway version. Michael Grief reprises his role of Director and has once again done a stupendous job.

Grief holds the distinction of being the only director to helm the original Broadway productions of two Pulitzer Prize-winning musicals (RENT and NEXT TO NORMAL). He writes in his notes on the CD "I love the honesty of its characters and riskiness of its concerns...I love the specificity and originality of the lyrics - which make directing and acting the play so vigorous and joyous, and so painful and rewarding. And mostly, I love the extraordinary music that expresses every idea and every emotion so perfectly and so profoundly. It's great to discover an original musical with so much intelligence and so much heart..."

This production has many connections with the hit musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN. Playing Diana is the Tony Award winner for DEH, Rachel Bay Jones who played "Heidi Hansen". While she was amazing in that role, this role establishes her as a major Broadway star. Michael Park (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine) was also in the original Broadway cast of DEH and packs this role with power. Ben Levi Ross plays (Henry). He was in the first national tour of DEH and packs a powerful voice. And wouldn't you know, Director Grief also directed DEH and was nominated for a Tony.

If you saw NBC's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE or Fox's RENT LIVE! you witnessed the amazing talent of Gaithersberg native Brandon Victor Dixon. Dixon got nominated for Tony Award nomination for SHUFFLE ALONG, but his notoriety may be his from his role as "Aaron Burr" in HAMILTON and his comment to Vice President Mike Pence after the show. Dixon plays the long-suffering husband, "Dan". Seeing both Jones and Dixon perform together is worth the price of admission.

Rounding out the great cast is Maia Reficco (daughter "Natalie") and Khamary Rose as son "Gabe".

Jones plays a suburban mother who struggles with bipolar disorder which one notices in an early scene when she attempts to make lunches for her family and ends up with bread all over the floor. She has so many pills of all colors and all sizes and when they do not help, she ultimately undergoes hypnosis and finally electroconvulsive therapy. She must deal with the death of her child who died very young and she hallucinates seeing him as a teenager. She has a daughter who falls in love with a classmate and a husband trying to deal with all this. Please do not get scared off by the topic here. It is a riveting musical with lovely music and a marvelous production.

Mark Wendland did the clever multi-level set which he did on Broadway and was Tony-nominated for it. Here, Paul Tate dePoo III has adapted it.

Sergio Trujillo once again shows he knows a lot about Choreography having just won a Tony for AIN'T TOO PROUD. His work shines.

Corey Pattak's Lighting Design is impressive. He uses 18 towers of light which pulsate at times with every color imaginable.

Jeff Mahshie does the spot-on costumes.

Kai Harada does a superb job on Sound.

Charlie Alterman has the dual role of Conductor of the orchestra as well as playing the piano. I remember Alterman from the Arena Stage production and it's great to watch him again on stage. He is quite a talent.

The five other musicians are top notch: Karen Johnson (Violin/Synthesizer), Kerry van Laanen (Cello), Paul Henry (Bass), Shannon Ford (Drums/Percussion) and Craig Magnano (Guitar).

While Washington is in the middle of the impeachment hearing, a line that led to a huge applause was "The Senate is a disaster".

NEXT TO NORMAL ends this Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. For tickets call 202-467-4600 or visit There is a Superbowl special Sunday night at 7 p.m. for all you Ravens' fans... a nice distraction.

I highly recommend the CD which includes the libretto to follow they lyrics by Brian Yorkey (also did the book) and listen to the fabulous music by Tom Kitt who got a Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Coming to the Kennedy Center:


Just announced HAMILTON returns for performances June 16 to September 20, 2020!! Public sale begins Monday, March 9 at 10 a.m. at the Kennedy Center Box Office, or by calling 202-467-4600. There is a maximum purchase of eight tickets per household. There will be 40 $10 orchestra seats offered for all performances. Details will be announced closer to the engagement. For more information visit

National Symphony with Megan Hilty and Cheyenne Jackson Feb. 13 to Feb. 15 in the Concert Hall.

Norm Lewis in concert Feb. 29.

Broadway Center Stage BYE BYE BIRDIE April 23 to 27.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR April 14 to 26 at the Opera House.

Royal Shakespeare Company's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW May 6 to 10.

Prior to the show my wife and I tried the Roof Terrace Restaurant. Had a delicious lobster tempura, crab mac and cheese, and truffle fries. To make a reservation call 202-4168555. We sat in the bar where no reservations are needed. It is much more relaxing to the cafeteria

I recommend the following link about the rehearsal for NEXT TO NORMAL.

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From This Author Charles Shubow