Next to Normal"--Music Theatre of Connecticut

Reviewed by Irene Backalenick

“Next to Normal” (with music by Tom Kitt and book/lyrics by Brian Yorkey) was made to order for its current home, the Music Theater of Connecticut. Not that director Kevin Connors (co-founder of MTC with Jim Schilling) doesn’t take the show and run with it. But this tale of mental illness (a woman with a bi-polar disorder) was meant for this claustrophobic setting. At least it’s claustrophobic when Connors chooses to use his fine little theater that way.

 

Diana is a middle-class wife and mother who lives with her husband, daughter, and an imaginary, long-gone son. She attempts to run her household faithfully, but wild sprees of sandwich-making, marital sex, and insomnia bring her back once more to her therapist. Or rather her pharmacologist. The meds must be adjusted, or, as Diana decides, dumped into the trash.

 

Who would think of this as proper material for a Broadway musical? But in fact “Next to Normal” was a Broadway winner in 2009, taking several Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Humor is mixed with tragedy or near-tragedy, spelled out in dialogue and music. The tunes are hardly the kind you leave the theater humming, but, often close to opera, with sung-through dialogue, they add to the power of “Next to Normal.” The story devastatingly hammers home the effect of mental illness on an entire family. How does one cope, how does one comprehend the incomprehensible?

 

And now, thanks to Connors and company, “Next to Normal” arrives at our own back door. Connors has recruited a fine cast, topped by Juliet Lambert Pratt as the afflicted Diana. Pratt is blessed with a thrilling voice which one rarely encounters, but which truly comes into its own in MTC’s intimate setting. But Pratt is more than a pretty voice. As an actress, she invades the role, exploring it to the depths of its possibilities. Playing a bi-polar patient, she has the opportunity to move through a range of emotions. And, in this close-up view, every nuance is registered on the audience. Others in the cast meet the challenge as well, with Will Erat as her baffled husband, Tommy Foster as her several therapists, Elissa DeMaria as her messed-up daughter, and Jacob Heimer as the hopeful boy friend. Particularly noteworthy is Logan Hart as the dead son, a formidable ghost.

 

In all, this particular “Next to Normal” is a painful, powerful, scarifying, but soaring experience, not to be missed.

 

This review also appears in nytheaterscene.com


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