BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL Needs to Find its Rhythm
A high standard of musical drama is expected from the Musical Stage Company that sadly wasn't present at opening night of NEXT TO NORMAL. The three-time Tony Award-winning, Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey is Musical Stage's latest undertaking in its line of family drama shows. After multiple Dora Award wins last year for Fun Home and Life After, expectations were high for NEXT TO NORMAL - however, the show needs some work before it can truly harness the potential of its performers.
NEXT TO NORMAL takes us inside the Goodman household. Diana (Ma-Anne Dionisio) is suffering from debilitating mental health issues after a traumatic family event, while her husband Dan (Troy Adams) and son Gabe (Brandon Antonio) struggle to hold the family together. Natalie (Stephanie Sy), the youngest Goodman, feels overlooked and forgotten and turns to her new boyfriend Henry (Nathan Carroll) for solace. As a last resort after Diana attemps to take her own life, her psychiatrist Doctor Madden (Louise Pitre), suggests Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - but the procedure has its risks.
I got the impression that the production was missing an overall vision. Other than the mostly Asian-Canadian cast (more casting like this please!) and an intriguing gender-swapped role, there is nothing very interesting about this production. The piece feels scattered across the board, with individual elements desperately trying to come together.
The set is more of a distraction than anything. Sliding doors at the back of the stage malfunctioned during opening night, with stagehands making unwanted cameos through the cracks of the doors. These doors were most effective at allowing the beautiful lighting to convey various spaces, but the act of opening and closing them caused problems. The exterior facade of the home, which opens at the top of the show, features large window cutouts that also revealed more distracting backstage action on both sides of the stage. Seeing a stagehand ushering actors to their entrances or moving props, completely pulls you out of the flow of the drama.
The vocal performances are the highlight of this production. Dionisio sings the role of Diana with effortless power and grace - her performance of "Didn't I See This Movie?" is a tour-de-force. However, the lack of clear direction left Diana's overall emotional arc less effective than it could be. While her portrayal in the second half feels very grounded, the same cannot be said about the first act.
As the Goodman children, Antonio and Sy both display bright, soaring voices that suit the modern music beautifully. Carroll also does a fine job singing the role of Natalie's boyfriend, Henry, but could deliver a more dynamic acting performance. Adams, whose voice has some similar qualities to Brian d'Arcy James (who played the role on Broadway), also could have used more dimension in his performance.
Louise Pitre has created a well-rounded Doctor Madden - professional, compassionate, and stoic. Pitre makes the most of the very low vocal lines throughout the show (usually sung by a man), but really flourishes in the Act II finale with a gorgeous belt.
Mirvish announced a few days before opening that there was an illness in the cast and that the first three performances were cancelled. There was also an understudy slip for the role of Dan in the program on opening night - so it was a surprise when Troy Adams walked on to start the show. With all of these unexpected changes before opening, I think it's safe to say that after a few performances, the technical issues will be ironed out.
NEXT TO NORMAL is a beautiful musical with a powerful message. If the talented cast and techincal elements can come together to find their rhythm, it's sure to be a favourite with audiences.
NEXT TO NORMAL, presented by the Musical Stage Company and Mirvish Productions, is on stage until May 19, 2019 at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic).
For more information and to buy tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/next-to-normal
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz