Next to Normal is a winner of 3 Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, so my expectations were high. The musical that opened at the Warner Theatre's Nancy Marine Studio Theatre on Friday, Sept. 14 is a community theatre production that transcends anything I have ever seen there. Executive Director John Bonani saw the play on Broadway and remembered being "slightly disturbed but highly entertained" by this "exciting play." He thanked the audience for "engaging us to do inspiring things" such as this unique musical that is directed by the amazing Isabel Carrington in her first directing project for the Warner Stage Company and produced by the fearless Sharon A. Wilcox. I had a complimentary ticket (thanks to a generous young lady in the box office) and Mr. Bonani watched the second act from a seat near mine.
The book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, have a very strong storyline that rivets the audience throughout, while the absolutely wonderful mostly rock music moves the story at a speedy pace. Ms. Carrington writes: "Fair warning: this is not your garden variety, fun and frivolous musical romp. This is a story rooted in reality; both edgy and relevant."
One wouldn't think that a show that explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness could be uplifting, but this reviewer certainly did not leave the theatre depressed. I used the opportunity to tell Mr. Bonani how much I loved it and he agreed wholeheartedly.
There are no missteps in this show. The sound elements are flawless, and the costumes by Johanna DeZurik are great. The beautiful set was designed by Dan Checovetes, and he has outdone himself with the lighting. The six-piece orchestra, directed by David Irvine (Annie,) rocked the house, with Dan Koch on piano and Beckie Wallace on violin/synthesizer. With a whopping 39 musical numbers listed in the program, these musicians were kept very busy. Sheila Waters Fucci provided the minimal but effective choreography.
Then there is the six-member cast that Ms. Carrington (author of The Beautiful Empire of Ordinary Kings) carefully assembled and directed with a deft touch. Each one is a strong actor, singer and infrequent dancer that tackled their tightly written character. When the cast members blend their voices in song, there are moments of perfection. Some numbers brought back memories of the best parts of the musical Rent; Mr. Irvine strove to bring out the best in each of his singers.
Dawn Brown plays the lead role of the mother dealing with bipolar disorder to perfection; that she has a wonderful singing voice is simply icing on the cake. Tom Denihan is very convincing as her husband "Dan." Young Theresa Elizabeth is spot-on in the role of their teenaged daughter "Natalie" and is an equally talented singer. I didn't recognize Rob Girardin (Footloose) until he appeared as the second doctor, but he was excellent in both roles, especially as the rock star illusion of her doctor. The always wonderful Alec Varcas plays the boyfriend "Henry" with a mix of stoner/romantic lead and is extremely charming. Finally, Thomas Doelger, a high school junior at Hall High School, shines in the role of son "Gabe;" his clear tenor voice was a joy to behold as was his stage presence in what he calls his "dream role." I hope to see him on stage again soon.
I have to call this production a "must see" and hope that you make the effort to travel to Torrington to see this fabulous show. It continues next weekend and tickets are available. It contains some mature content (mostly language) so viewer discretion is advised. It truly is transcendent and I absolutely loved it.