BWW Reviews: North Carolina Theatre's NEXT TO NORMAL
Next to Normal is an original musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey that tells the story of a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness and the attempts to alleviate it have on her family. The musical also addresses such issues as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life.
The musical opened on Broadway on April 15th, 2009 where it ran for about 733 performances after closing on January 16th, 2011. It went on to earn 11 Tony Award Nominations (including Best Musical), where it won 3 awards including Best Original Score. It also became the eighth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.
This current production playing at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater through May 10th shows what an extraordinary piece this is! It's very inventively staged by director Casey Hushion on a two-story set designed by Chris Bernier. There's also some very striking lighting designs by Charlie Morrison; Some effective sounds designed by Eric Alexander Collins & Brian L. Hunt; and an energetic intimate band conducted by Nancy Whelan.
Each of the six-member ensemble delivers in their own right. As Diana Goodman, Raleigh native Lauren Kennedy gives a very moving performance not only in terms of the acting, but in terms of the singing as well; Charlie Pollock gives a very caring performance as Diana's genuine husband, Dan Goodman; As Dan and Diana's troubled daughter Natalie, North Carolina native English Bernhardt should be a star in the making; As Dan and Diana's son Gabe, Mike Schwitter literally rocks the stage; As Natalie's love interest Henry, Ben Fankhauser offers a whole lot of charisma; and Charlie Brady successfully pulls off playing the two roles of Diana's doctors.
While the subject matter may not be for everyone, I think anyone who's interested in a show like this should experience this breath of fresh air!