BWW Reviews: SJ Rep's NEXT TO NORMAL Anything But Normal

The drama of mental disorder and family angst explodes on the San Jose Repertory Theatre stage this month as Broadway-caliber actors tackle a penetrating story told through a high energy, rock n' roll, pop opera musical.

Creators Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, who received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for "Next to Normal," allow their characters to develop and churn. The simplicity of the story turns to complexity as the audience explores the lives of characters and their psychological motivations. The audience can feel the tension tighten as one mother's bi-polar conditions affect her daughter, husband and others around them.

Best known for her run as Glinda in Broadway's "Wicked," Kendra Kassebaum brings a lost-and-found hopelessness to Diana, the mother who so desperately wants to understand and rediscover her identity. Joe Cassidy hits a few sour notes in the first act, but convicts in the second act as Diana's husband holds on without abandon, taking every possible road to recovery for his wife. Meanwhile, daughter Natalie (Andrea Ross) competes with the unique hold her brother (Jonathan Shew) has on her parents' lives. Ross seizes attention with her flawless portrayal of Natalie's fall from the order-driven musician to a loose teenager who deals with addictions and a relationship with the cute and dorky Henry (a supportive and perceptive A.J. Holmes). Mark Farrell plays Diana's "scary rock star" doctors, providing a few, short moments of comedic relief.

The entire cast brings the house down with their intense performances and show stopping vocals, the females giving the strongest performances of the production. Framing the action of the show, house-shaped glass pieces with giant cracks stand behind a bare, but extremely effective set of stairs, platforms and household items (contributing to an outstanding scenic design by John Ezell). Lighting and projection designer David Lee Cuthbert provides scene-setting projections and dramatic lighting to enhance the potency of the musical, while a live band led by Dolores Duran-Cefalu backs up the cast with the vigorous score.

With its mind blowing script, powerful music and astounding cast, "Next to Normal" is one of the most incredible, moving works of art to ever exist. It's not normal musical theatre. No. It's much better.


Through February 3
San Jose Repertory Theatre

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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