Next to Fabulous

By Dan and Alison Tingley

Next to Normal, directed by Richard Davis, is now playing at the Erie Playhouse. Book and lyrics were written by Brian Yorkey, and the music was written by Tom Kitt. Next to Normal opened off-Broadway in 2008 and the on Broadway in 2009. The musical won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 and 3 Tony Awards, including best original score, in 2009. We can see why. The music is exciting and energetic and there’s a lot of it. We don’t normally care for super musically musicals, but this one works extremely well.

Next to Normal gives us a powerful, honest depiction of the life of a woman, Diana, with bipolar disorder as well as the lives of her family. We see her ups and downs through action and song. In addition, we see the struggles with which her family contends as they try to be supportive for her sake. It’s not pretty, but it’s raw and it’s real. And it’s well done. We can see why it won the awards that it did. The show deals with serious topics such as loss, suicide, drug abuse, and medical ethics and still manages to make the audience laugh at times.

The cast includes Trisha Yates (Diana), Ken Brundage (Dan), Jules Royce (Gabe), Eva Espey (Natalie), Andrew Dolan (Henry), and Mike Watts (Doctor Madden/Doctor Fine). Each of these actors shines in this performance. Yates gives a powerful performance as we see Act I mostly from her perspective. She does a phenomenal job with her character. Some of her songs are down-right chilling. Brundage plays the supportive, co-dependent husband to a tee (what does that mean, anyway? Only to a tee? The other six letters are just left out? If that’s the case, Brundage plays his character to a zee.) Brundage does a wonderful job of drawing the audience in to his perspective smoothly. Without giving anything away, let us just say that the characters played by Royce and Espey have their own problems. They are able to build their characters showing their needs and their desperate attempts to satisfy these needs. Dolan plays the supportive boyfriend very well. At times, he eerily mirrors the actions of Brundage’s character, cleverly showing the cyclical nature of some psychological illnesses. Finally, Watts’ portrayal of Diana’s doctors is very good. He shows concern, but is bound by the limits of a scientific community that does not fully understand bipolar disorder. At times, he also demonstrates his frustration regarding these limitations.

For a show with as much singing as this one involves, it is certainly well cast. Each of the actors is also a very talented singer, performing emotionally charged songs with an ability to emotionally charge the audience as well. Royce is absolutely amazing. Yates gives a powerful vocal performance. We also thoroughly enjoyed listening to Espey. We would like to see her in more mainstage productions at the Playhouse.

The set and costumes work well for the story. Davis’ direction is impeccable. The music, under the direction of Andrew Rainbow, is excellent.

Next to Normal runs through June 23. This show is a must-see for anyone who has ever had an experience involving mental illness as well as for anyone who has not. It is a very compassionate look at a very debilitating illness. It’s a fantastic show performed exceptionally well. We should give fair warning to those who are bothered by “adult” language: Never have we heard the F-word sung so much, although completely appropriately. For more information and tickets call the Erie Playhouse box office at 814-454-2852 or go online to www.erieplayhouse.org.

 

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