BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Arizona Regional Theatre
Genuine. Heart-wrenching. A train of emotions, sweeping you up without warning and careening through suppressed tears. Arizona Reginal Theatre's production of Next to Normal runs the gamut of all your emotions and places them on display for the world. A piece personifying the effects Bipolar disorder can have on a family, Next to Normal brings the topic of mental illness to the forefront, driving awareness with an underlying lesson on empathy.
This cast is a treasure trove of voice and acting ability, with everyone on stage drawing you in. Amy Jo Halliday is a phenomenal Diana. Her actions were the right kind of jarring, driving home the realism of a disease and personifying its highs and lows with genuineness. As well, Halliday was the perfect opposite to those she shared the stage. Halliday and Nathan Sheppard together made for a captivating spectacle as Gabe and Diana. Nathan Sheppard's Gabe caused me to hope for his character at some points and wish for his mother Diana's peace at others. Vocally, he was a tremendous talent, with charismatic charm. Andy Albrecht as the show's patriarch, Dan, is the father trying to hold things together. Watching this tug-of-war matchup between Dan and Gabe with Diana has you on the edge of your seat, as you watch Dan do whatever he can for his wife. Kendra Richards brought to Natalie more than just teen angst. Richards exudes a realism of the struggle a young person must withstand when they feel forgotten amongst tragedy. Vocally, Kendra is a standout, stringing you along with strength and ease through the notes. Nathan and Kendra together made for a perfect duet in "Superboy And The Invisible Girl." Their voices enchantingly and masterfully blend together, making for beautiful music. Throughout, this show has beautiful moments of harmony, where the full cast blend into melodic beauty amongst hysterics, heartache, and pain.
On the other hand, there were a few technical aspects that didn't feel up to par with the happenings on stage. Although I was gripped by the actors and their voices soaring through the space, lighting wise the darkness on stage made it hard to read emotion in a physical sense. There were points where the use of lower light was an extension of emotional effect. However, there was more than one occasion where moments didn't read past the first few rows. As well, the quality of sound made for a missed line or two. There were a few trouble spots where voices were muffled, and lines weren't completely clear. With that being said, I was so enthralled and invested, that none of these details bothered me nor took away from the show. The set was simply perfect. The home felt whole and the use of space and levels was marvelous. The lighting effects on the central piece in conjunction with the use of projections was gorgeous and the perfect accent to making moments that much better.
I left all the tears I had in my seat. This show brings out the real struggle that people deal with daily. A struggle that, after the show ended and people began to decompress, many that were there to witness knew well. Director Chris R. Chavez took to the helm and guided this cast and its audience through the waves and to the shore of understanding. Once arrived we debarked, and many were inspired to learn, or at least understand better. This is definitely the show to start the narrative most tend to shy away from, as well as promote an empathetic and truly caring mindset. Next to Normal is a masterpiece that leaves you in awe, stuck between wanting the emotional rollercoaster to end and hoping for one last turn around the bend. This production runs at Arizona Regional Theatre until February 24th. Make this show one you do not miss.
Photo Credit: JALT Media / Kimberly Sheperd