BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Koppang Kulturhus - Next to Outstanding!

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Koppang Kulturhus - Next to Outstanding!I will admit that was somewhat skeptical when the producers of the first regional (and non-professional Norwegian version) of Next to Normal invited me to review their production. When I did some research about the production the skepticism grew, but so did my curiosity: a teenage musical-geek asks his father to produce a local production of the show, where he, his father and mother will play the main parts, in a settlement with less than 1,500 citizens. Since I am a huge fan of the musical (and of people who have the guts to take chances) I said "yes". It was a long drive through the Norwegian countryside amongst valleys, mountains, lakes and moose-infested territory to reach this secluded little town of Koppang. But - I am so glad I did! The first full prelude chords from the orchestra sent a wave that hit me right in my skeptical, snobbish face.

For those unfamiliar with this show "Next to Normal" is an American rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. The story centers on Diana, a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her family. The musical addresses grief, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life.

The musical opened on Broadway in April 2009. It was nominated for eleven Tony Awards that year and won three: Best Original Score, Best Orchestration, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley. It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming the eighth musical in history to receive the honor. After the opening on Broadway the first international production opened in Norway in September 2010 at Det Norske Teatret, and ran for two seasons. Odd W. Surén translated it to Nynorsk, which is Norway's second official language. This production also used the Nynorsk translation.

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Koppang Kulturhus - Next to Outstanding!The role of Diana is (Singing teacher) Gry Oda Ulvmoen Myrbakken's musical theatre debut. She is classically a trained singer who also know how to belt, which is needed for this role. I really liked the slightly metallic timber in her voice, which suited the character. As this is her first time acting on stage she seemed a little uncomfortable, but this actually worked to her advantage. She portrays Diana as rather distant and eccentric and that took some getting used to, but during "I Miss The Mountains" I was hooked. The warmth of the character started to rise to the surface along with her rendition, and at the end of "I Am the One" I was in tears.

Her (real life) husband Dan was played by Jan Tore Myrbakken. This also marks his musical theatre debut. Again, I was very surprised by his vocal abilities. His native sounding voice had warmth that was befitting the part especially in the high register. Acting wise he was a little stiff at times, but he also evolved as the show progressed, and his rendition of "I've been" was honest and moving (More tears).

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Koppang Kulturhus - Next to Outstanding!Peder Myrbakken sang Gabe to perfection. He is only eighteen years old, and for his young age he shows real potential and talent. Myrbakken showed understanding of the role and I liked his choice of moving slowly, being menacing at times, while turning to the seductive "comfort" Diana addicted to in the next. His voice is really great and it was evident he felt at home on that stage.

The sarcastic and troubled sister Nathalie was played by Helene Schmidt. As with Myrbakken she too is only eighteen years old. Her voice is great and she also gave a very truthful interpretation of the character. Especially during "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" where she showed the raw frustration of her character. During the dialogue scenes I would have wished her diction to be clearer, as the has a lot of good lines that got lost at some places during her conversations with Henry, played by Edd Arne Stensåsen Skjønsberg. His portrayal is honest and boyishly awkward around his love interest. He has a good voice, especially in the falsetto parts, but the vocal demands was to high for him in some parts (Like the first "Perfect For You") and should have been transposed down to fit his voice better. Ingvald K. L. Pettersen as both Doctor Fine and Doctor Madden was very pleasing. It was great to finally hear someone who could actually do the part justice (in Norwegian) and at the same time skillfully acted. He commanded his scenes, and he always felt interesting. I usually don't feel much for Doctor Madden, but this time I did.

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Koppang Kulturhus - Next to Outstanding!

The scenic design in simple, with four rooms in two levels and a staircase in the middle. The white walls in the back was often backlighted with menacing shadows. The lighting design was highly effective throughout, but especially when Gabe is in the back of Diana's mind and all we see is his shadow singing during "Aftershocks" in the seconf act.

BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Koppang Kulturhus - Next to Outstanding!Director Sindre Olav Fredriksen has done an admirable job and it truly shows. Especially to make the first-time-performers rise to this level is no easy task. This material being particularly difficult! The musical in itself and the source material is a work of art, but that only gets you through the door, and if it hadn't been for the fact that they all gave honest and believable performances I hadn't shed as many tears as I did. And when done right (like done here) the audience is on this journey along with this family, and it is painful, intense and lighthearted at times while being a very warm and moving experience.

They all felt very much as an ensemble. Of course there were things along the way such as harmonies that were lost along the way, the tempos of some songs ran a little too slow for my taste, and some dialogue got lost due to diction and sound difficulties. But (again) in regards to that most people on that stage had next to no (!) experience doing this type of genre, I was floored.

It is this type of experiences in the theatre local theatre scene that makes being a reviewer for BroadwayWorld that much more rewarding. The only thing that saddens me is that not more people got to see it, as it was a very limited run. But for those who DID see it, they witnessed "a next to outstanding" debut.

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From This Author Christian Ranke

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