BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Three Act Theatre
I had the honor of seeing ""Next to Normal"" with my daughter Madeleine at the Three Act Theatre Company. Even though she's just 9 years old, she has listened to the score since birth. I had no qualms about bringing her. After all, the show opens up an important dialogue about mental illness and its effects on a nuclear family. Why shelter kids from these discussions?
Three Act Theatre Company is a non-profit company based in NYC, whose mission is to pass the torch of live theatre to the next generation. TAT was invited into the Pelham community to expand it's reach into the Westchester community while aiming to raise funds to give back to the Pelham HS Theatre Program. Three Act's "Next to Normal" ran for only four performances, which is a shame. This could have been an open-ended run - it was that good and that moving.
When I entered the Pelham High School Auditorium, I was filled with memories of the black box theatre where
"Next to Normal"" (originally titled "Feeling Electric") made its premiere. As many people know, I am the sister of composer Tom Kitt, so I will always root for a production of this show. I' have been part of this ride since 1996, when "Next to Normal" was a Five Minute Musical at the BMI Music Theatre Workshop. I have seen it performed a lot and I am happy to report I can genuinely rave about this latest production.
Honoring the concept of original Stage Director Michael Greif, Eric Mark Olson has created the same levels
with the cast bounding upstairs and grounding themselves in the set's living room. He even kept the costumes from the Broadway version. I really felt like I was back in the Booth Theatre! The music and story are so powerful--dealing with a mother's mental illness and how it affects her family--that the simplicity is perfect. Kevin A. Smith has assembled a top-notch band - highlighting the orchestrations of strings and electric guitar. No one instrument overpowered the other. The percussionist kept the varied rhythms moving and the performers were completely in sync.
Thinking back on the show itself, I often wonder whether the story is really about Diana or Dan. Cindy Finegan as Diana completely embodied the mental illness and heartache with a killer mix. Her version of "I Miss the Mountains" and "So, Anyway" conveyed all the uncertainty of a life unknown. It truly was astonishing.
Richard Lisenby as Dan kept the household going by not giving in to his own emotions. His character goes
through an arc that takes you by surprise at the end. His pop tenor was effortless in "I've Been" and the trio of "You Don't Know/I am the One" with Cindy Finegan and Devon A.A. Norris as Gabe was a vocal highlight.
Sarah Liddy as Natalie and Ethan Gabriel Riordan as Henry brought youthful authenticity to the show. With such seasoned acting and singing, it was hard to believe that the two of them are teenagers in real life. Their performance of "Hey" in the second act showed the intensity of young love, yet the uncertainty of a life with such a dysfunctional household.
Stephen Millett as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden rounded out the cast with both comic relief and an underlying wisdom about the severity of Diana's mental illness.
I try not to sound biased when I say that Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey created a musical masterpiece. The subject matter is as relevant now as it was in 1996, when Tom first told me about the idea. The fact that so many people can relate to the subject matter and that he and Brian were able to make it into such an accessible musical will always be a huge achievement. Three Act Theatre has done the same with their production of "Next to Normal" and for that, this Kitt is truly grateful.