The Goodman household is nothing extraordinary just plain normal; a delusional and bipolar mother, a father in denial, and two children that have some indescribable issues of their own. They are the average American family, right?
Next to Normal is a pioneer for musicals, not since RENT has a musical created such a cult following. It focuses squarely on the pain that cripples the members of a suburban family, and never for a minute does it let you escape the anguish at the core of their lives.
Alice Ripley reprises her role as Diana Goodman. She is compelling and emotional, proving just why she earned the Tony for this role. Her journey from mental hell and back is riveting. Members of the audience are taken on a journey that makes them feel compassionate, empathetic and at times possibly uncomfortable. Ripley endows the role with such possessive force that we have no choice but to accept and, in a strange way, honor it.
The extraordinary Curt Hansen tackles the role of Gabriel, Diana’s “twat” of a son. Hansen commands the stage with power and presence as he stalks the stage like a metaphysical nightmare. You simply can’t take your eyes away from him.
Emma Hunton plays Diana’s angry, hyper-intelligent daughter. Hunton locates a new depth of adolescent disdain and need, to correspond perfectly to Ripley’s evocation of rebelliousness. Her duet with Ripley, “Maybe (Next to Normal)”, is a powerful moment that may bring some to tears.
As Natalie’s steadfast boyfriend, Henry, Preston Sadleir is charming, funny, dorky and sexy all wrapped into one. His time on stage though brief is honest and endearing. In short, he is a lovable pot head that some fathers might actually allow their daughters to date.
Asa Somers’ heartfelt contributions as Diana’s husband, Dan, create a thoroughly sympathetic account of a man bobbing helplessly in the whirlpool of his spouse’s troubles. His voice fills the theatre with a soft force that creates a ripple of goose bumps as it travels from the front row to the back of the house.
Portraying Diana’s shrinks and psychopharmacologists, Jeremy Kushnier ably wears the stoic game face of a helping professional and transforms smoothly into the rock star nightmare Diana had a tendency to see. Kushnier, plays to role somewhat emotionally unattached to the Goodman family but
It’s all staged on an impressive three tier set which does lead to sightline problems if you’re sitting near the front, and forces the performers to perform dangerously close to the edge. But since the characters are close to the edge anyway perhaps this was an intended metaphor.
Next to Normal may not quite be perfect, but it is ultimately an enormously powerful, bold and often heartbreaking new musical. This musical confronts an issue that everyone can relate with; the human condition. Next to Normal will be at the Ellie Caulkin’s Opera House from now till January 16.
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