BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Castle Craig Players
How far would you go to help a suicidal loved one, especially if that person has already attempted suicide, but survived? If you had the legal right to make treatment choices on behalf of your suicidal loved one, would you consent to your suicidal loved one receiving an extreme form of treatment that your suicidal loved one is apprehensive to receive? Would you overlook the attempted suicide and treat the situation as a mere poor decision during a rough time? Could you emotionally handle the responsibility if your decision, either way, adversely impacts your suicidal loved one? I hope you never find yourself in that situation, but if you do, the show NEXT TO NORMAL, which is running at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse, in Meriden, CT, as put on by the Castle Craig Players, challenges us to think of how we would react if confronted with this reality. I had the pleasure of seeing this show on Sunday, March 8, 2020. It is directed by Oliver Kochol and Ian Galligan.
This show is a musical with original music written by Tom Kitt, with book and lyrics written by Brian Yorkey. A four piece live band, conducted by Jackie Harris-Stone, is backstage, visibly hidden from the audience. The genre is both comedy and drama, also known as dramedy.
The set is a back wall of translucent rectangular windows, arranged asymmetrically, varying in size, and lit in different colors, at different times, by lights from behind. The lack of symmetry is a brilliant backdrop for a show involving someone whose mind is riddled with mental illness, the character Diana, who is performed by Susan Kulp.
Many shows have twists at the end, but NEXT TO NORMAL stands out in that its biggest twist uniquely occurs in the middle of the first act. It would be too big a spoiler to reveal what that twist is, so you have to come to the show to find out. It was something that for me, entering the show knowing nothing about the show, I didn't even remotely see coming.
Diana's husband is Dan, who is performed by Tom Denihan, who is excellent at making the audience feel his character's emotions at the end of the second act. Dan is a loving husband towards Diana. He is the character who is faced with the quandary I mentioned above, in regards to Diana.
Dan and Diana's son is named Gabe, and performed energetically by Stephen Koehler. He initially comes across as a very loving son.
Diana's doctors, Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden are both played by Moses Beckett who is excellent at suddenly shifting between who his characters are and who Diana perceives his characters to be.
Michael Kennedy is great as Henry, a stoner who becomes very persistent in his romantic pursuit of Dan and Diana's teenage daughter, Natalie, who deals with emotional issues herself, resulting from her distant relationship with her mother.
The phenomenally talented actress Jennifer Del Sole totally steals the show in her first-rate portrayal of Natalie. She brings energy, enthusiasm, and feeling to Natalie, elevating the quality of the show whenever she is on stage. While, in my opinion, there is no individual song that stands out among the others, in the musical, I prefer every song in which Jennifer Del Sole has the lead vocals, since she has a strong voice, belting out the songs with clarity and feeling, her songs all within her vocal range. I'm not sure whether Tom Kitt just happened to write better music on Natalie's leads, or whether Jennifer Del Sole is to be credited for making Tom Kitt's songwriting sound the best on Natalie's songs, but either way, those songs are by far the musical highlights.
Parental discretion is advised due to a lot of the language used in the show. NEXT TO NORMAL is scheduled to continue to be performed by the Castle Craig Players at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, CT, through March 21, 2020. For times and tickets, please go to http://www.castlecraig.org/.