Music by: Tom Kitt
Director: William Osetek
Dr. Madden…Colte Julian
OUTSTANDING DRAMA CONVEYED THRU MUSIC
“Next to Normal” won a Pulitzer Prize, one of only eight musicals to win for drama and shares good company with “South Pacific”, “A Chorus Line”, and Sondheim’s, “Sunday in the Park with George”. Describing “Next to Normal” as a musical, however, seems like a misnomer, because it misleads the theater goer into anticipating more traditional fare, when this play stretches miles from tradition. Is it closer to an opera? No, because the acting plays such a critical role, yet the extensive original songs do carry much of the experience.
Because of this regional premiere, to describe details of the plot may lessen the impact of a first viewing. Instead, I will focus on the main characters (Mom, Dad, Daughter and Son) in their idyllic suburban setting. They struggle, cope, pretend, deny, deteriorate, suffer, explode, and love. In this volatile play, the genuine humor throughout the play lightens, and punctuates some of the darkness.
You do not need to travel to New York to see a Broadway quality actress. Susie McMonagle not only leads the cast as the Mother, but she blows you away with the range of her voice and her performance. Given her background, this should not be a surprise. She played Fantine in “Les Miserables” on Broadway for a year, plus the national tour. She also toured with “Billy Elliot” and “Mamma Mia”, and stacked up nine Jeff nominations from performances in Chicago. Son, Gabe, ( Josh Tolle) and husband, Dan (Rod Thomas) play off McMonagle with the perfect amount of angst but tenderness. The remaining three actors complete the line up in perfect order for their characters.
In reading the program after the performance, I was shocked to see that the orchestra consisted of only five instruments: violin, guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. The superb musicians behind the stage more than adequately played the challenging popular and powerful rock songs that won a Tony for Best Original Score and another for Best Orchestrations. Unfortunately, the volume on the audio equipment proved too loud for me on opening night, and muffled the musical clarity of a few of the high intensity songs by the singers. This seems to be a common error in more and more performances at other theaters as well.
The angular set of a cut-away, extremely sparse modern home in black, white and tan parallel the story line in its absence of color and sharp edges. With no significant scene changes, the effective circular walkway surrounding the home allowed for different presentations of journeys; and the extensive negative space emphasized the large gap in the relationships among the family members. Lighting, especially a backdrop of extensive spotlights pointed toward the audience, added to startlingly effective moments at different times.
“Next to Normal” is not a feel good musical, but a truly believable drama that can ignite your emotions and enlighten your understanding of some of extreme life problems people have or could face in their futures. The author wrote a very heart-wrenching story that demands exceptional singers with remarkable acting ability. For a very memorable night of theater, let your mind and heart embrace “Next to Normal”, a brilliant and exceptionally rare theater experience indeed!
Date Reviewed: August 22, 2013
Performances at Drury Lane Theater, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL
August 22 through October 6, 2013
Wednesdays through Sundays: $35 – $49, with Student and Senior discounts available. Lunch and dinner packages range from $50 to $74.
(Parking is free.)
For reservations, call Drury Lane Box Office 630.530.0111, or TicketMaster at 800.745.3000, or visit www.drurylane.com