Behind the perfect lawn, landscaping and the painted red door of the ideal suburban house lives a normal family. Or does the façade instead mask something else entirely?
This is the question behind the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical “Next to Normal” which is now on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Ct. This historic theater which is known for its high quality productions, astounded the audience with their interpretation of this Broadway hit.
This contemporary musical with its rock/pop score takes on the delicate subject of mental health. This is certainly a different topic for musical theater. The six member cast tells the story of what seems to be a “normal”, successful suburban family. But we soon find out the household has deep issues. The family is composed of the father (architect), the wife (suburban housewife), the teenage daughter (who is driven to be perfect and to attract her parents love), and the son who we discover passed away as a baby 16 years ago. The wife, Diana has been struggling for years since the death of her son. Her struggle with bipolar disorder is a terrible strain on the family. Traditional therapies of medicine do not seem to work and the family makes the difficult decision to have Diana try electric therapy. And while the treatment seems to work at first, Diana loses part of her memory. Her husband Dan wants her to put away the memory of their son and move on. The family wants to be normal, and will even accept being “next to normal”. But the son (Gabe) keeps appearing on stage, not as a baby, but as a teenager which complicates Diana’s struggle to heal. The story takes the audience on a journey of discovery of these very real characters and their struggles. In the end there is a glimpse of hope that a person and their loved ones can heal, and lead a better life.
The musical opened on Broadway in April 2009. It was nominated for eleven Tony Awards that year and won three. It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama becoming the eighth musical in history to receive the honor. The original cast was white and this production has a diverse multi racial cast which makes the show more relevant to a wider audience. The cast is lead by Dar.Lee.See.Ah as Diana. Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Dan, Ashley LaLonde as Natalie, Daniel Maldonado as Gabe, Gian Perez as Henry, and Katie Thompson in the dual roles as Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine.
The two hour plus musical is filled with over 40 songs that tell the story of this family and their struggles. It is part serious drama, part rock show, part musical theater and 100 percent stunning. The set design and lighting design is an essential part of telling the story and Westport Country Playhouse lives up to its usual high standards. While the entire gives outstanding performances, and they harmonize well, the highlight of the evening is the vocal performance of Dar.Lee.See.Ah. Her singing and acting brought the capacity crowd to its feet. She is a vocal tour de force.
The play is directed beautifully by Marcos Santana who also directed and choreographed the brilliant version of “In The Heights” which we attended at the Playhouse in 2019. He has also choreographed two shows on Broadway as well.
While and interesting topic for musical theater, Next to Normal is the kind of show that pauses you to think about the lives that go on behind seemingly normal doors. It also gives hope when life is darkest and lifts you up with a musical score full of energy. A show not to be missed. True Broadway quality right in our own area.
Next to Normal is onstage through April 24th.
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