Next to Normal is a musical about how mental illness affects the lives of both those afflicted with it and the people who love them. It feels like a strange thing to be a musical: you certainly won’t leave singing any favourite songs, but overall it works out to being a moving and beautiful piece of theatre.
Diana Goodman has bipolar disorder paired with delusions. She’s married to dutiful husband, Dan, and has an oft-neglected daughter, Natalie. Rounding out the family is Gabe, the son who died eighteen years ago at eight months old and has only grown up to become a young man in Diana’s deluded mind. She’s never been able to let go, and the happy, normal family they all want to believe in continues to get farther away from reality.
The beginning of Next to Normal is scattered and unfocused. It sets up the characters and Diana’s history of treatment but doesn’t succeed in grounding us in what specifically we’re supposed to be following or connecting to.
It’s deep into the first act where Next to Normal will start to creep up on you; as Diana reaches a breaking point and a radical treatment has become their last resort. There it builds into a greatly engrossing show with a deeply powerful ending when we get to see everybody, if not better, if not normal, at least hopeful that they’re now moving in the right direction.
More than being just about mental illness, Next to Normal is about the dangers of bottling things up and avoiding facing them. It shows us how important it is to have a willingness to face your problems.
indie women’s production of Next to Normal — a reboot following a successful run at The Gladstone last year — is quite well put together and makes great use of the gorgeous Centrepointe Studio.
Maxim David, Kodi Cannon, Jeremy Sanders, and Derek Eyamie join Skye MacDiarmid and Justice Tremblay who come back as Diana and Natalie. Together, they vary from ‘eh’ to outstanding.
The standouts here are MacDiarmid, Sanders, and Eyamie as Diana, Gabe, and Dan — fortunately the three key characters. MacDiarmid takes a bit to warm up (which might be related to the first act problems) but wonderfully captured Diana’s arduous journey once she hit her stride.
Sanders (Gabe) and Eyamie (Dan) are just super. A number where the two independently fight for control of Diana’s headspace (I Am The One/I’m Alive) is a strong highlight of the show.
Eyamie on his own is a powerhouse who needs to lead more productions immediately. His performance is heartbreaking and his vocal power and presence gave me flashbacks to Tim Oberholzer’s recent and critically acclaimed turn as Hedwig. One word by Eyamie, in a particular moment at the end of the show, succeeds in bringing the exactly needed case of the feels to end the night.
Next to Normal, while not perfect, hits all the important moments and hits them hard making for a memorable show that I would be thrilled to see again given the opportunity.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think? Did Next to Normal hit you in the feels? Did the Natalie/Henry relationship feel as flat to you as it did me? Join the discussion in the comments below.