Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Broadway Center Stage: Next to Normal
Kennedy Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Silent Sky, Spring Awakening, The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Thousand Splendid Suns

Rachel Bay Jones and Michael Park
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
An incandescent performance by Rachel Bay Jones propels the Broadway Center Stage production of Next to Normal in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. Michael Greif and Sergio Trujillo, the original director and choreographer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, have returned to the property with their vision intact.

While the Kennedy Center describes its Broadway Center Stage performances as semi-staged, possibly with the actors carrying scripts, that isn't the case with this riveting production. The six exemplary cast members run, dance, and climb the stairs of Mike Wendland's three-level set, adapted by Paul Tate dePoo III, with Charlie Alterman conducting five fierce musicians from the piano.

Next to Normal is an uncompromising look at a family dealing with one member's emotional illness. Diana (Jones) has been diagnosed as bipolar with occasional hallucinations; the actress embodies a woman who works frantically to keep up with her (real and perceived) responsibilities, copes with the uncertainties of treatment (one musical scene covers the effects of different psychiatric drugs), and is sometimes furious, sometimes eerily cheerful and clear-eyed. The rock score by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) pulsates with life but isn't unrelenting; it incorporates quieter, more meditative moments.

Although Jones may be the dynamo powering the performance, she's surrounded by an equally strong company. Brandon Victor Dixon is heartbreaking as Diana's husband Dan, determined to keep his family together and suffering through a situation he can't control or ease. Maia Reficco and Khamary Rose both blaze as the family's teenage children, one overachieving and the other consoling and controlling in turn, with strong support from Ben Levi Ross as Reficco's easygoing classmate and Michael Park as two psychiatrists.

The term "incandescent" can also apply to the physical production. Lighting designer Cory Pattak has integrated vivid lighting elements into the scaffolding-based set, which burst out in varying colors to dramatize Diana's mental state and other moments of revelation.

Broadway Center Stage: Next to Normal runs through February 3, 2020, at the Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit

Music by Tom Kitt
Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Music Director: Charlie Alterman

Diana: Rachel Bay Jones
Dan: Brandon Victor Dixon
Natalie: Maia Reficco
Gave: Khamary Rose
Henry: Ben Levi Ross
Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine: Michael Park