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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Next to Normal
Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts

Next to Normal
Curt Hanson, Alice Ripley and Asa Somers
Next to Normal, at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through April 3rd before moving on, is rock operatic at its maximum. The touring version of the Tony and Pulitzer Award winning musical showcases a cast which is both spirited and talented. The show, about bipolar depression and its effect upon a family and others, captivates during each of its moments.

For sixteen years, Diana (Alice Ripley) has been attempting to cope with her disease and life. The opening number, "Just Another Day," is anything but that. Diana makes sandwiches upon the floor and everyone realizes she is in trouble. Diana's husband Dan (Asa Somers) tries to support and maintain, but that will be impossible. The ensemble cast includes Emma Hunton as Natalie, who has her own problems, and Henry Preston Sadleir as her boyfriend. Curt Hansen plays Gabe, the son who tries to carve out space for himself. Jeremy Kushnier is cast as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden.

Diana visits her first physician and Dan wonders about his own malaise. The number, "Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I" is terrific. At a birthday celebration, Diana evidences her delusion and goes to Doctor Madden who thinks hypnosis might assist. Then, the option of electroconvulsive therapy, through successive treatments, is explored.

When Diana returns home, it is without memory. With her family prompting, she begins to recall. Eventually, Natalie and her mother, Diana come together for "Maybe." Finally, Diana must decide whether or not to leave.

Of course, there's much more to this pulsating, nonstop two and one half hours of contemporary brilliance. Tom Kitt's music and Brian Yorkey's book and lyrics are singularly electric, energizing and heartbreaking. Mark Wendland's tri-tiered set immediately catches one's attention. The scenic design offers a home's interior which also has the feel of a cage or enveloping fence. Kevin Adams' lighting sometimes suitably jars. The suburbs and rock and roll interface.

There are many musical numbers and one imagines it is quite by design that none are specifically listed in the playbill. Reprises include "Hey," "I'm Alive," and "I Am the One." Next to Normal is unconventional, different, and ever affecting. Michael Greif, directing, capitalizes upon the obvious passion and compassion underlying the play. The circumstances of are next to impossible.

Alice Ripley, a couple of years back, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Her performance, still, is strong, versatile and fresh. Unfortunately, her singing voice, at this times, does not measure up. She is hoarse and her articulation suffers.

Everyone else in the cast is excellent of voice. When Curt Hansen as Gabe is afforded the spotlight, he is superb. You have to feel for Natalie who is smart and perceptive. Actress Emma Hutton resides just inside the skin of this character, whose emotions are always raw and on the surface. It is left to Asa Somers as Dan to maintain equilibrium as the metaphorical rock. He does his best and is in fine voice with many a solo.

Next to Normal has enjoyed a complex evolution. It is said to have begun, in 1998, as a short piece about a woman dealing with shock therapy. After many readings and workshops during the past decade, the show arrived Off-Broadway in 2008. It premiered on Broadway in April, 2009. The tour began in Los Angeles this past November and moves to Pittsburgh after the Hartford run.

Next to Normal continues at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through April 3rd. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit www.bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit http://www.nexttonormal.com/tour_tickets.


Photo: Craig Schwartz


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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