Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Theatre Harrisburg

Catch this Intense and Beautiful Show through February 11th.

By: Jan. 27, 2024
Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Theatre Harrisburg

The award winning musical Next to Normal by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey had it’s premier in 2008, followed by a run on Broadway that began in 2009 and a US tour in 2010. Next to Normal tackles the intricacies of lives and relationships impacted by mental illness. It does not shy away from the hard realities of living with or loving someone who suffers from mental illness. Theatre Harrisburg presents Next to Normal under the direction of Dave Olmsted and music director Mitchell Sensenig-Wilshire through February 11th.

The set and lighting work together beautifully to highlight the themes and emotions of the story. The orchestra, consisting of Mitchell Sensenig-Wilshire (Conductor/Piano), Tim Crane (Bass), Andrew Jackson (Cello), Mark Hunsberger (Drums/Percussion), Ken Geist (Guitar), and Andrew Vinton (Violin/Synthesizer), sets the tone for the performance. These talented musicians keep the momentum building and never miss a beat as they tackle a difficult score.

Next to Normal is an intense show that asks a great deal from its performers vocally and emotionally. The cast at Theatre Harrisburg does not disappoint. Brian Silva shows off his versatility as he alters his demeanor and voice in order to portray Doctor Madden and Doctor Fine. Moses Handy’s performance as Henry is filled with heart, giving the character an authenticity that is refreshing. Handy’s smooth vocals and wide range are on full display in “Perfect for You” and “A Promise”. The interactions between Handy’s Henry and Melody Carsey’s Natalie are so moving—especially in the scenes at Natalie’s recital and at the dance. Carsey is incredible in her role as Natalie. The emotions she portrays elicit a visceral reaction from the audience, and her crystal clear voice and precise harmonies are simply lovely. Ryan Smetzer takes on the role of Gabe—perhaps one of the most intricate roles in a show filled with intricate roles. Smetzer’s facial expressions and physicality imbue the character with an air of mischievousness and, at times, almost menace. His vocal performance, particularly on “I’m Alive” and “I Am the One”, is riveting.

Christine Beutel and Brian Fosnocht round out the cast as Diana and Dan. The depths of emotion that these actors bring to the production is heart-wrenching. Their interactions with one another as well as with Smetzer and Carsey feel so real that the audience cannot help but get caught up in the family and their lives. Beutel brings Diana to life in a beautiful way, performing the role with lovely subtlety and vulnerability. “I Miss the Mountains” and “So Anyway” highlight her beautiful, full voice, but her hard-hitting performances of “You Don’t Know”, “Why Stay”, and “Maybe (Next to Normal)” will stick with this reviewer for a long time. Fosnocht’s Dan is the perfect match for Beutel’s Diana. His facial expressions draw the audience in, and his gorgeous vocals refuse to let them go. “He’s Not Here”, “I Am the One”, and “A Promise” are so heartfelt that they move the audience to tears.

The entire cast, orchestra, and production team of Next to Normal at Theatre Harrisburg thoroughly deserve the standing ovation they received opening night. They tackle the tough themes in the show with compassion and heart. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness will have a representative and resource table in the lobby after each performance, and the theatre will be hosting a talkback immediately following the performance on Sunday, January 28th. Get your tickets for this immensely relevant, hard-hitting musical before it’s too late—many performances are already sold out! Visit the button below for details.