"NEXT TO NORMAL" PROBES SENSITIVE ISSUES EMOTIONALLY AND MUSICALLY


BONNIE GOLDBERG

Did you ever feel that sometimes you need a stronger Elmer's Glue just to hold on to life? Or that you were trapped in a soap opera and you can't find the remote control to change the channel? Maybe your life is a bad movie and all you want to do is walk out of the theater. If those feelings resonate or are only remotely familiar, you will commiserate with and feel compassion for Diana Goodman and her family.

 

The intimate stage of Music Theatre of Connecticut is the perfect venue for "Next to Normal," an intensely personal story of a family in crisis, weekends until Sunday, November 4. Several years ago Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey were given the challenge to compose a ten minute play about electric shock therapy. The result, now a full-fledged musical, has won them a trio of 2009 Tony Awards as well as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

Juliet Lambert Pratt is wonderfully convincing as Diana, who struggles daily, almost minute to minute, with a diagnosis and label of bi-polar depression. The loss of a baby son Gabriel, sixteen years before, haunts her and to survive, she regularly communicates with Gabe, a powerfully present Logan Hart, as the teenager he would be had he lived.

 

Dan, a faithfully supportive Will Erat, is the husband who tries to guide Diana through her mental and emotion ups and downs, chauffeuring her to doctor's visits and the succession of drug therapies. When all seems darkest, her doctor (Tommy Foster) suggests shock therapy.

 

Natalie, a struggling teen with her own issues, desperately wants a normal mother and normal family, but she will settle for one that is "next to normal." Now with a boyfriend Henry, a tender and concerned Jacob Heimer, by her side, she craves a mom to confide in and get advice from, not the woman who is distant and unattached. Elissa DeMaria is agonizingly perfect as the daughter who yearns for a simple, even dull existence. Kevin Connors does a splendid job directing a fine cast, dealing with the difficult subject of mental illness.

 

For tickets ($25-45, $5 off seniors and students), call Music Theatre of Connecticut, 246 Post Road East, Westport, lower level of Colonial Green at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com.; Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

 

With songs that evoke both laughter and tears, follow a family caught in a personal and private battle that affects everyone in their world.

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