Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Ridgefield Theater Barn

The production runs through June 24, 2023.

By: Jun. 03, 2023
Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Ridgefield Theater Barn

On Friday, June 2, I had the pleasure of seeing NEXT TO NORMAL presented in the absolute most phenomenal way possible!  The Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield, CT, has maximized the potential of this emotionally deep and powerful musical!  Directors Matt Austin and Jessica Chesbro combine their strong directing talents with their brilliant set design skills to create an immersive experience that draws the entire audience into the show!  This stellar cast of six first-rate performers brings their characters to life!  The stage presence of all six cast members and dynamics between them all yield authenticity that makes the audience feel the characters’ emotions, in this intimate setting.   The audience was truly moved by this story with book and lyrics written by Brian Yorkey, coupled with the music written by Tom Kitt, as performed by this amazing cast and live band, in this perfectly arranged venue for this show!

The Ridgefield Theater Barn is arranged very differently in this show from how it has been in previous productions.  The live band is behind the main stage, backstage, while the stage is open on every side.  Down the center of the house is another stage where a great deal of the story takes place.  In the back of the house are two more stages, one on the back of house left, the other on the back of house right.  The audience sits at tables that mostly surround the center stage.  Every seat in the house is a great one, with the cast members making entrances, exits, and at times singing or delivering lines right in front of various audience members.  There is no need for any shy person to fear, though, because the fourth wall does not get broken in this show.  We all just get to see the story unfold right in front of us.  The entire theater is used effectively, including multiple appearances in the front part of stage left.    

Musical director Sarah Fay conducts and plays piano in this talented live band that enhances the energy and mood of this production.  Also featured in this band are Charles Casimiro on bass, Christian Peragine on drums, Tim Maynard on guitar, Blake Hansen on violin/synthesizer, and Isabella Palacpac on cello.   

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 challenges you to think of how you would react if confronted with this dilemma.

Diana is the central character, realistically portrayed by Marilyn Olsen, in a manner that truly gives the audience a deep insight into mental illness.  Diana is a married woman who is suffering from a serious mental illness that adversely impacts her family relationships.

Diana's husband is Dan, who is performed by Chris Fay, who is excellent at making the audience feel his emotions. 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 Rob Bassett.  He initially comes across as a very loving son.  Gabe is highly likeable, with Rob Bassett enhancing every scene in which he appears. 

Diana's doctors, Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden are both played by Bill Warncke who is excellent at suddenly shifting between who his characters are and who Diana perceives his characters to be.

Mark Costanzo is great as Henry, a stoner who becomes very persistent in his romantic pursuit of Dan and Diana's teenage daughter, Natalie.   The audience hopes to see him succeed in his quest for Natalie’s love.

Hannah Rapaglia provides a strong and believable portrayal of Natalie.  Hannah Rapaglia’s facial expressions and mannerisms are spot on, as she stays believably in character at all times, including when the central focus of any given scene is on a different character.  Natalie deals with emotional issues herself, resulting from her distant relationship with her mother.  Throughout it all, Natalie remains a likeable character, with Hannah Rapaglia’s performance making the audience feel Natalie’s emotions.

For mature audiences, I highly recommend NEXT TO NORMAL which is scheduled to run at the Ridgefield Theater Barn through June 24, 2023.  For times and tickets, please go to Click Here.


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