BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Holmdel Theatre Company Displays A Realistic Representation of Mental Illness
Holmdel Theatre Company concludes its 30th season with the contemporary musical, Next to Normal. With a book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, the show opened on Broadway in 2009 after an Off-Broadway run and out-of-town-tryout in DC. The production ran on the Great White Way for two years, going on to win three Tony Awards including Best Original Score, Best Orchestrations, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley. Next to Normal also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Next to Normal, directed by Kathy Connolly, tells the story of the Goodman Family, who seem like the "perfect" family on the outside. The mother, Diana Goodman, has been suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for sixteen years. Her husband Dan is her biggest champion, while their teenage daughter Natalie just wants a "normal," life. Next to Normal shows how one person's mental illness affects a whole family and drives them in directions they never knew they could go in before.
Gaelen Gilliland, who has previously starred in Broadway shows such as Spongebob Squarepants, Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, and Wicked, leads this six-person cast in the role of Diana. Gilliland gave an outstanding representation of a woman who has mental illness, showcasing Diana's highs and lows. She beautifully sang the song, "I Miss The Mountains," where Diana finally has her breakthrough, realizing how her illness affects others.
Jake Oliver portrays Dan, Diana's dedicated, concerned husband and emotional support, which he expresses in the solo, "I've Been." Jordan Virgil is Natalie, Diana and Dan's moody, determined, and smart teenage daughter who just wants to have a normal family and wishes that her mom could get better. She feels ignored by her parents, which she communicates in the song, "Superboy and the Invisible Girl." Brian Johnston takes on the role of Henry, Natalie's boyfriend and complete opposite, who becomes a significant influence in her life. Arjun Menon embodies the character of Gabe, Diana and Dan's invisible, nonexistent son, and Jason Kruk plays Dr. Fine/Madden, Diana's doctors. The small cast as a whole were comfortable with each other on stage, feeling like a true family.
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Pulitzer and Tony-winning score was the highlight of this incredible musical. The show had many standout songs. "You Don't Know/I Am The One" occurred when Dan convinces Diana to get over the loss of their son. "Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I'm Falling" takes place when Dr. Madden tries to hypnotize Diana in therapy. "Why Stay/A Promise" shows the parallels between the relationships between Diana and Dan and Natalie and Henry, presenting Natalie's fears of becoming like her mother when she grows up. The memorable finale scene, "Light" ended with the entire cast wearing white to symbolize a new beginning.
Next to Normal had a simple, wooden set design by Kathy Connolly and Jake Oliver, which was a replica of the Goodman's home. The props and costume design by Jessica Freeland had modernized clothing and items such as hospital stretchers, pill containers, schoolbooks, and a birthday cake. There was eclectic lighting and sound design by Chris Szczerbienski, which added an amplified level to an already amazing show. The intimate, 99-seat theater allowed for the actors to walk through the aisles in some scenes, immersing the viewers into the performance.
Holmdel Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal did a great job representing a family who is going through mental illness, which is an important topic in today's society. It was refreshing to see a musical that mirrored real life and did not cut any subject matter that was too deep or sensitive. The complicated themes that the musical touched upon were displayed in a realistic way that was very relatable to its audience.
Tickets for Next to Normal can be purchased by calling 732-946-0427 or by visiting the Holmdel Theatre Company website at https://www.holmdeltheatrecompany.org/n2n. The show will be performed in the Duncan Smith Theater through August 4. The theatre is located at 36 Crawfords Corner Road in Holmdel, NJ. For more information on Holmdel Theatre Company, you can follow them on Twitter @RealHTC, Instagram @holmdeltheatrecompany, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/holmdeltheatrecompany/.