Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pop-rock Musical, Next to Normal, Soars at The Everett Theatre!

Next to Normal is one of the bravest musicals I have ever seen. The compelling show tackles mental illness, a subject that's not usually explored in musical theater.

The musical, with music by Tom Kitt and book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey, focuses on a suburban family in crisis and coping with the matriarch's battle with mental illness. Like most mothers and wives, Diana is trying her best to love and raise her children, while being a dutiful wife; unlike some mothers and wives, she's also living with bipolar disorder.

With the help of her husband (Dan) and her doctors (Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden), Diana is trying to manage her high and low periods and manic situations. However, the stress of her illness is affecting her relationships, especially with her teenage daughter (Natalie), a genius and musician. Natalie, who recently started dating her first boyfriend (Henry), is at an age when she needs her parents' guidance. Unfortunately, Diana and Dan are consumed with Diana's situation and are not able to give their daughter the attention she needs. Diana and Dan's son (Gabe) on the other hand, is elusive and "not exactly always around." The family contends with the many therapy options for Diana's illness and the stress of living with someone who is not always able to control her actions and moods.

Next to Normal is written from the point of view of Diana's, as well as the rest of the family, allowing the audience to gain a better understanding of what a person with mental illness and his/her family members experience. Director, Jeffrey Santoro handles the show with great sensitivity, but he doesn't hold back. He takes on the stressful situations in the show with great vigor and his actors follow his lead. Karen Murdock electrifies as Diana. She's stunning in a role that calls for her to delve deep inside to find the many emotions and feelings that her character experiences, regardless as to how dark they may be at times. Patrick O'Hara as Dan, Alyssa Lewis as Natalie, and Tyler DeFriece give powerful and heartbreaking performances as Diana's family. They walk a tightrope of trying to maintain stable lives while trying to care for Diana. Dale Martin, Jr. as both Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden and Alexander Vanderlek as Henry also give solid performances.

Next to Normal is a show that shouldn't be missed. Hopefully, people will not only be entertained by the musical, but also gain a better understanding of mental illness and the impact it has on the family unit.

The final performances for Next to Normal at The Everett Theatre (47 West Main Street, Middletown, DE) are March 16th and 17th, at 8:00 PM and March 18th, at 3:00 PM. A talkback with the cast and NAMI Delaware staff members will follow the March 18th performance. Visit www.EverettTheatre.com or call 302.378.7038 for tickets.

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