Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Next to Normal

Mental illness doesn't impact only the person who is ill. Mental illness echoes through a family, friends and neighbors. The tragedy is that a suicide is forever raw in a family. Healing is not an option.

Mental illness is the subject of Next to Normal, the musical that earned three Tony Awards last year and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The story deals with a perfect suburban family: mother, father, daughter and son. Following a family tragedy, Diana, the mother, slips into bi-polar issues. Her husband Dan moves her from psychiatrist to psychologist, and to the hospital for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments.

As the story progresses, the audience watches Diana's illness affect her husband and her daughter, Natalie. At one point Natalie tells her mother she doesn't need a normal life; she would settle for a life that's next to normal.

This is complex, intense material. Everything becomes all the more intense because it's a rock musical that is sung through—that is, few spoken words.

The cast is superb. Alice Ripley received the Tony Award for her performance as Diana. Asa Somers played Dan on Broadway. This sterling cast reaches into our hearts and minds and shakes us.

The instrumentalists are divided into groups on stage right and stage left, on three levels. Thus divided, they can't see a conductor. That results in one problem—sometimes the instrumentalists overpower the singers. I know this is a rock musical and the music must be powerful. However, Next to Normal is a story, and every word is important and should be heard by the audience.

The opening-night audience in the Palace Theatre gave the cast a standing ovation. Yet, as the members of the audience filed from the theater, few people were talking, some were wiping tears from their eyes.

Next to Normal should be required viewing by everyone—few of us live life without at least one bi-polar person in our lives.

Next to Normal at the Palace Theatre, PlayhouseSquare through June 9, 2011. For performance and ticket Information, call 216-830-7221 or visit Jersey Boys will open in the PlayhouseSquare, June 22, 2011.

Next to Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Gabe: Curt Hansen
Natalie: Emma Hunton
Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine: Jeremy Kushnier
Diana: Alice Ripley
Henry: Preston Sadleir
Dan: Asa Somers
Director: Michael Greif
Set Design: Mark Wendland
Costume Design: Jeff Mahshie
Lighting design: Kevin Adams
Sound design: Brian Ronan
Music director: Bryan Perri
Palace Theatre in the PlayhouseSquare
Cleveland, Ohio

- David Ritchey

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