BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL is Electrifying at Syracuse Stage

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL is Electrifying at Syracuse Stage
L-R Tyler Fauntleroy, Sara Masterson, Judy McLane, Josh Tolle, Glenn Seven Allen and Matt Ban in Syracuse Stage's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Michael Davis.

Under the brilliant direction of Robert Hupp, the Artistic Director of Syracuse Stage, Next to Normal is thrilling audiences at Syracuse Stage with its intense story, dynamite singers, and powerful score. The uniquely brilliant musical covers many controversial topics such as grief, suicide, drug abuse, and modern psychiatry. The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical is one that demands excellent actor-singers to properly showcase the music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Director Hupp has assembled a top-notch group of performers that beautifully capture the emotional and powerful music and story. The lead role of Diana is played by Broadway veteran Judy McLane. Among her impressive credits includes more than 4,000 performances of the Broadway hit Mamma Mia!. She and the other cast members, deliver intense, emotional, and delivers truly electrifying performances.

The musical centers around Diana (Judy McLane), a wife and mother struggling with a bipolar disorder. Diana and her husband Dan (Glenn Seven Allen) lost their son Gabe (Josh Tolle) when he was only eight months old and Diana's grief has overtaken her to the point where she believes that the 18-year-old version of Gabe is still by her side. These hallucinations of the perfect cause contribute to Diana to ignoring the fact that she has a teenage daughter that needs her to be a part of her life. As a result, Natalie (Sara Masterson), a very brilliant and talented girl, resents her mother and turns to drugs and partying to escape the hurt and loneliness. The loss of Gabe and Diana's related mental issues put great stress on the family, including Diana's relationship with Dan, who also struggles with loss, but handles it very differently. The story dives into different ways to deal with mental health issues, including pills and electric shock treatments and explores the various side effects of each.

While Next to Normal is very much a rock opera, the Tony Award-winning score does feature many other styles of music besides pop-rock. There are country western and traditional music-box songs. Music Director Brian Cimmet and his live onstage orchestra - hidden behind the house set piece (wonderfully designed by Shoko Kambara) - deliver the music with such power and passion.

The scenic design by Shoko Kambara allows the very fast-paced and emotional musical to effortlessly flow from scene to scene and helps the audience focus on the story unfolding center stage. Suzanne Chesney's costumes captures the change in each character's emotional. Dawn Chiang's lighting allows the audience to understand when Diana is being overtaken by her hallucinations. Jonathan Herter's sound design allows the powerful music to be heard. On opening night some microphones cut in and out during some of the dialogue scenes, but it did not negatively affect the performances.

Then there's the wonderful cast.

Judy McLane is intense, powerful, and passionate as Diana. McLane's performance is a masterclass in pure uninhibited acting at its finest. McLane delivers an especially chilling and memorable rendition of the beautiful and emotional "I Miss the Mountains" and the intense song "You Don't Know." McLane's connection to the other actors on stage is crucial to the production's success and is evident in various numbers such as "Just Another Day," "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I," "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling," just to name of few. She also captivates in the number "Didn't I See This Movie?" Her professionalism, intelligence, and love for the role shines in every moment she is on stage. She is brilliant in the complicated and demanding role.

As Dan, Glenn Seven Allen delivers soaring, strong vocals. His passionate and intoxicating performance truly embodies a man dealing with loss, trying to keep a family alive or semi-functioning, and avoiding his own crazy emotions. Allen's rendition of "He's Not Here" is truly emotionally beautiful. He steals the spotlight with his raw emotional performance of "I've Been."

Sara Masterson dazzles us with her vocals and spot on acting. She captures Natalie's anger and frustration with every glare, swear word, and general moment of teenage angst. Masterson steals the spotlight with her powerhouse belt in "Superboy and the Invisible Girl." Her rendition of "Everything Else" is expressive and passionate. Her chemistry with Tyler Fauntleroy as her boyfriend Henry is perfection especially in the number "Perfect for You." Fauntleroy is Masterson's match acting-wise and delivers a performance that is calm, collected, and comedic in the right moments.

Josh Tolle's intense stare, electrifying vocals, and vocal range make his performance unforgettable. "I Am the One," performed with Judy McLane and Glenn Seven Allen, was one of my favorite numbers; it stole the show. His vocals are also haunting and just purely memorable in "I Dreamed a Dance," "There's a World," and "Aftershocks." His portrayal of Gabe, the perfect son trying to keep his Mother with him and not allowing her to forget him, also showcases his strong acting skills.

Matt Ban as is amusing as he portrays what Diane believes she is seeing in Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine. His line delivery and vocals are very calm and collected in "Seconds and Years" and "You Don't Know (Reprise)".

Other standout musical moments include numbers "A Light in the Dark," "Wish I Were Here," "Song of Forgetting," "Better Than Before," "How Could I Ever Forget," "It's Gonna Be Good," "Why Stay?/A Promise," "The Break," "Maybe," and "Light."

Next To Normal is one of those musicals that will leave you on the edge of your seats the entire time. It showcases some of the most deep and beautiful music written for the musical stage, which is exceedingly well performed by a stellar and downright electrifying cast. This thought-provoking and powerful production is not to be missed at Syracuse Stage.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and twenty minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Next to Normal runs through February 11, 2018 at Syracuse Stage. For tickets for this production or information on Syracuse Stage, click here or call 315-443-3275.


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From This Author Natasha Ashley