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BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Germantown Community Theatre

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Germantown Community Theatre

We all strive for normal but does anyone really know what that is? The Goodman family from the show Next to Normal has a few pointers on what normal means... or perhaps, something next to normal, can be ok too. And you're in luck; you can see the Goodmans at Germantown Community Theatre for two more weekends. If you are seeking some heavy subject matter, actors who can make you laugh and drive you to tears, plus an intimate set that makes you feel as if you are part of the show, then this is the show for you.

For those who are unfamiliar with Next to Normal, allow me to give you a brief insight on this groundbreaking show.

Next to Normal opened on Broadway in April 2019 and closed in January 2011, after more than 700 performances. It was nominated for three Tony Awards and won three categories: Best Original Score, Best Orchestration, and Best Leading Actress in a Musical. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010, becoming the 8th musical in history to be honored in this way. It was ahead of its time, delving into mental health, drug abuse, and grief. The musical went on to tour the US in 2010 with the original Diana (played by Tony Award winner Alice Ripley) and has been produced in various regions of the world, such as Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Asia (Korea, Japan), and Europe (Italy, Portugal).

It was seen recently at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. from January 29th- February 3 2020. Original Broadway director Michael Greif returned for the event with Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones portraying Diana Goodman.

The show centers around the Goodman family; Diana and Dan, with their children, Gabe and Natalie. As the show goes on, we see that Diana is suffering from bipolar disorder, frequently seeking treatment from various psychiatrists. This causes a strain on the rest of the family and we see how mental health affects not just the victim but their loved ones as well. With a small cast of only six, the rock-style music is powerfully moving while the different emotional experiences tug at the audience's hearts.

"Next to Normal is a departure from our usual productions," says Brian Everson, Executive Director of Germantown Community Theatre. You can certainly see why. In her community theatre directorial debut, Olivia Gacka addresses intense subject matter, which is also referenced in Everson's touching curtain speech. Everson expresses acceptance and love toward those who are fighting silent battles in their own lives .

As stated above, the stage is small and simple, while the majority of the action occurs downstage, which in turn, made me feel like part of the Goodman family. Bruce Huffman (portraying the role of Gabriel Goodman) is to be commended for his smooth vocals and his emotional portrayal as Diana's son. Another delightful highlight is high-school junior Katy Cotton, who portrays Diana's daughter, Natalie. If you notice the incredible stage chemistry between mother and daughter, that's because Lorraine Cotton (Diana Goodman) and Katy are mother and daughter in real life. Knowing this small fact makes some of the emotional moments between Diana and Natalie even more moving. Each member of the cast displays poignant acting moments throughout the show, typically resulting in lots of sniffling and frequent blowing of noses in the audience. One of my favorite moments of the show is a lovely interaction between mother and son, in which Huffman's high, floating notes create a whimsical and almost dream-like atmosphere for the moment. Musical Director Jason Eschhofen leads a three person band with stirring music that carries us through the show. Some great musical moments are the three duets between Katy Cotton and Oliver Jacob Pierce, as well as the heartbreaking song 'How Could I Ever Forget' performed by Lorraine Cotton and John Maness.

Next to Normal is not to be taken lightly but it's also not to be missed. The cast delivers pure emotion and the audience, in turn, is moved to new sensations. The show runs at Germantown Community Theatre until February 16th, making it the perfect addition to Valentine's Day weekend plans.

Photo credit to Carla McDonald

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