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‘Next to Normal’ - Review

Mom’s Bi-Polar and the Family Strives to Deal

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Next to Normal

Next to Normal-Poster

Photo by Paul Cozby

Next to Normal is anything but a “normal” Broadway musical. Six characters. One family. Lots of pain. With 30 songs and buckets of sadness, Next to Normal is about as close to opera as Broadway gets.

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What ‘Next to Normal’ is About

Early on, as Diana, the mother, makes lunches for her family, we grow to understand something isn’t right when she can’t stop. She’s making sandwiches on the table, then on the floor, then enough to last two weeks trying to “get ahead.” Diana is bi-polar, a result of family history and a traumatic event. But the problem is she doesn’t know there’s a problem. Meanwhile, her husband and daughter suffer from a wife and mom, respectively, who both is and isn’t there.

Diana’s condition affects every facet of every life that comes into her orbit, and usually the effect isn’t good. The show follows her attempts to deal with it through drugs, counseling, even electro shock. And as she tries to deal, and her family tries to deal, we learn a little about why she is the way she is.

Strengths of the Show

Part of Next to Normal’s strength is the uncompromising way it looks at every character, every relationship, every effect of Diana’s bi-polar disorder. And it almost never offers a pat answer. This is full-contact theater not for faint of heart, but certainly for the soft of heart.

And it is excellently written theater. I lost count of the times that lyricist Brian Yorkey had two characters singing exactly the same words but with exactly opposite meanings. It was the result of characters drawn with all the complexities we know to be in everyone. And they are dealing with all the contradictions and hard choices life offers each of us.

Who’s Who and What’s What

Alice Ripley won a Best Actress Tony as Diana. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey won a Tony for Best Score. Michael Grief, the director of Rent, directed (he loves those mulitlevel sets).

But I think it’s J. Robert Spencer, Tony-nominated as Diana’s husband, Dan, who actually gives the strongest performance of the show. Spencer was one of the original Jersey Boys, so he knows about strong performances, but it is tough sledding to make an audience continue to care when you are the good guy, the loving, loyal, long-suffering husband. Watching Dan continue to hope, even though we suspect there isn’t much cause for it and watching him struggle against wearying of his long fight against despair is good theater indeed.

When and Where

  • Booth Theatre
    222 West 45th Street
  • Show Times and Tickets
  • Opening: April 15, 2009
  • Closing: Open-Ended Run
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run Time: Two hours, 15 minutes (with intermission)
  • Advisories: Mature language, intense scenes

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