BWW Reviews: CCCT's NEXT TO NORMAL is Anything But and is a Must-See!


Contra Costa Civic Theatre offers a prescription for a remarkable theatre experience and an emotionally powerful journey in the Tony award winning "Next To Normal" playing now through May 5th in El Cerrito. Normalcy is something many take for granted. Having a regular job, a typical family, an ordinary life, but for the Goodman family normal is something far from view. In the seemingly happy home, mother Diana struggles with everyday life and her inability to cope with normal things, which is jarring for her and her worn-out family.

Alexis Rogers as Diana is stunning. Her emotional roller coaster hits home and rips at your heartstrings throughout the show. You can just see the agonizing pain she is dealing with in her eyes and the relationship to her son Gabe (brilliantly portrayed by Alex Murphy) moves you to tears. Her inability to connect with her husband the way she wants is heart wrenching and you are with her every step of the way in this powerhouse performance.

Her husband Dan (played to perfection by Derrick Silva) tries the best he can to handle his family and Silva is just outstanding! The passion and pain felt in songs like "He's Not Here", "I Am the One", and "A Light in the Dark" had me wiping away tears more times than I can count and his final scenes of the show with Alex Murphy were absolutely phenomenal. I was drawn in by his performance and his powerful emotional state was almost tangible from the audience - an absolute thrill to watch!

Director Susan Hovey found a gem in Alex Murphy for the role of Gabe. His representation was so real and so honest that I almost don't have words to describe it - but I'll try. Murphy had the perfect balance of boyish qualities that made him so endearing, intertwined with that desperate longing a child has for that tender love only a mom or dad can give. His delivery of emotions through his singing can only be described as pure. My heart was pounding in "I'm Alive" and his emotional transition from his mother to his father in the final scenes was just beautiful.

And then we have daughter of Diana and Dan - Natalie. Marisa Conroy breathes an honest truth into the character that is believable and real. Her struggle between dealing with her mother and father and her desire to be with love interest Henry is a seesaw of a journey that is enjoyable to watch. Her back and forth with Henry (Nikita Burshteyn) was very truthful as she struggles with the world he has introduced her to and plummets further than even he ever expected.

Nikita Burshteyn as the pot smoking, laidback Henry was outstanding. The charm and wit he brings to the character make Henry extremely likable and his determination to be with Natalie is completely believable. His acting chops are fantastic as he proves to her that he isn't going anywhere anytime soon and his voice was absolutely amazing as he turns on his romantic side in "Perfect for You" (Reprise) and is just melts your heart. He was just perfect for this role and when Natalie starts down a dangerous path Burshteyn pushes his character to new depths and you are with him through all his struggles - a wonderful performance.

Greg Zema as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden was hilarious! He found the truth in the comedy and played the comedic parts perfectly and his portrayal in "My Psychopharmacologist and I" was a riot. Zema also played the concerned psychologist wonderfully as well. Trying his best to find the right medicine to help Diana, you really see his effort and concern for his patient and his voice was spot on. This was the perfect role for him.

But you can't put on a great show without a great Set Designer and Lighting Designer and Daren A.C. Carollo and Joe D'Emilio each did a fantastic job. The two-tiered set by Carollo was reminiscent of wooden window shutters that gave off interesting shadows and added to D'Emilio's lighting design. Although sparse, the set was impactful and with the addition of projections on either side of the stage that showed images that accentuated powerful moments to that heart pounding next level or that added that extra tug at your heartstrings in the meaningful tearjerker moments, the set design just worked flawlessly.

Joe D'Emilio's lighting design was just stunning. It was a mix of soft lighting that urged the tears from your eyes and stark back lighting that made you hold your breath. The lights had a life of their own as if they were an additional cast member and when Diana is alone in a spot light as Gabe reaches out to her from the dark the moment is breathtaking.

Director Susan Hovey truly has a show here to be proud of. The great cast, crew, orchestra (Music Director Sierra Dee), set design, and lighting design out showed the few sound glitches of the night. "Next To Normal" is an outstanding show and Contra Costa Civic Theatre has outdone themselves. They have put on an amazing performance and one that this critic is proud to say he will be seeing again.

Next To Normal

Now through May 5th, 2013

Contra Costa Civic Theatre

Photo courtesy of Ben Krantz

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