“NEXT TO NORMAL”

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Early in “Next to Normal”, troubled housewife and mother Diana is making sandwiches for her family — husband Dan, son Gabe and daughter Natalie — in the kitchen.  Only she isn’t lining up the ingredients — the bread, the filler, the condiments — on the kitchen table, as you might expect.  She is laying them out hastily, almost feverishly…  on the kitchen floor.

.That’s the first sign that something is not quite right with Diana. (Another clue — a surprise — pops up soon after, but I won’t reveal it here.)  Until that moment, Diana appears to be the typical Mom: loving, caring, and conscientious.  (No one in her family will go hungry as long as SHE has anything to say about it.)  It is not until the scene has played itself out that we realize there is more to Diana — much more — than meets the eye.

Diana suffers from bipolar depression, and “Next to Normal”, with its score by Tom Kitt and book by Brian Yorkey, is about her efforts to cope with her illness, and her family’s efforts (often unsuccessful) to cope with her.
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To call it a “serious” musical would be an understatement; it is as powerful a drama as is currently available on Broadway, and right at the heart of it, turning in a gut-wrenching performance, is Marin Mazzie.  She cries, she laughs, she lashes out — she even gawks with amazement at her handsome young psychiatrist, who, in one of the show’s few light-hearted moments, assumes the persona (at least in Diana’s mind) of an ultra-macho rock star — and is, from first scene to last, a forceful and dynamic presence.  (Her full-throated vocals, which threatened to blow the roof off the theatre, don’t hurt, either.)
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Jason Danieley as her long-suffering spouse (he is her husband in real life, too) is excellent… Kyle Dean Massey is outstanding as her son… Meghann Fahy and Adam Chanler-Berat turn in fine work as her teenaged daughter (who has problems of her own) and her boyfriend… and Louis Hobson does well in the small but critical role of her therapist.
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The tall, multi-level set, with all its angles and flashing lights, is simple yet imaginative (Massey especially makes fine use of it, darting back and forth and up and down like a rat in a vertical maze), and the direction (by Michael Greif) keeps things running smoothly.
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Yes, there is practically no backstory, at all; a glimpse, the merest peek, at what Diana was like when she was happy, vibrant, and smiling — genuinely smiling — would have done the show a world of good.
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But that’s a minor complaint.  “Next to Normal” will keep you riveted, and quite possibly even in tears.  Go see it, and to be on the safe side… bring the Kleenex.
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THEATER REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien