I think I mentioned in my 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee review that some shows just aren’t the same only listening to the cast recording. As theater fans we try and get an idea for a show by looking at clips and listening to recordings but sometimes you have to be there and see the show to grasp what the complete picture. The Tony Award winning show Next to Normal is that kind of show. I knew about it and admired it but seeing it tonight at the Midvale Main Street Theatre was an incredible experience. It was devastating but remarkable.
I should have known what I was in for when they passed out tissues to the audience before the show. Make no mistake Next to Normal is a tough sit. It tells the story of Diana, a woman suffering from severe bipolar disorder. At the start she is hanging on and her long-suffering husband Dan and daughter Natalie pay the price for her episodes.They try to be kind but there seems to be no way to help their wife and mother. In fact, things just keep getting worse.
One of the best parts of Next to Normal is it doesn’t offer any easy answers for Diana. I do think you can tell the entire thing was written by men because there can be a lack of empathy for Diana (and Natalie to be honest); however, everyone is trying to help her the best that they can. One of my favorite songs is when Dan sings ‘A Promise’ about how he promised to love her forever and he’s going to keep that promise.
Another highlight in the show is ‘I’m Alive’ sung by Diana and Dan’s son Gabe. In the Broadway version it was sung by Aaron Tveit who is a big star now on Broadway.
There are definitely parts of this show that will be triggering for people. They are pretty cynical about psychological drugs and Diana undergoes electro-shock therapy, which causes her to have temporary amnesia. Like I said, it can be a tough sit but it’s also raw, visceral and honest.
The cast in Midvale features Valerie Packer as Diana, Parker Rawlins as Gabe, Hannah Roskelly as Natalie and Ryan Hoskins as Dan. They are all outstanding. I honestly can’t imagine it being done any better. The singing was incredible with them moving effortlessly from mixed, to rock, to belt. I was extremely impressed. It seems almost a shame people that talented are on a little stage in Midvale and not on Broadway. They deserve it.
They also make some really creative choices with the black and white costumes and set. The lighting by Kyle Esposito and direction by Cassidy Ross is top rate and does so much to convey the tone while not distracting from the strong performances. What this team was able to accomplish in a small theater rivals what I’ve seen at Hale Center Theater or even Broadway. It was very impressive.
This show does have profanity and like I said could be triggering for some people. However, if you want to see something different expertly portrayed I can’t recommend Next to Normal at Midvale Main Street Theatre more highly. It is playing until June 26th. Arrive early because parking is difficult to find.
9 out of 10