Next to Normal Shines A Light
By Nathan Hermanson
Next to Normal is an unusual musical and is unlike any other that Director Ruth Mandsager has worked on at the Majestic. Rather than experiencing an epic French revolution, we’re given the day-to-day life of a “traditional” American family. Instead of watching mill workers bare it all to save their jobs, we watch a daughter bare her soul to try and capture the attention of her absent parents. We aren’t driven forward by a con man running from the law, but instead by a family running from (and sometimes into) their problems.
All of these qualities combine to make the deeply affecting Next to Normal a must-see for all audiences.
Next to Normal, written by Brian Yorkey with music by Tom Kitt and directed by Ruth Mandsager, debuts at the Majestic Theatre on Nov. 1st and will run for three weekends (including Thursdays). Evening performances start at 7:30pm and matinee performances start at 2:30pm with talkbacks to follow each matinee.
Next to Normal tells the story of a family keeping things inside and ignoring what's right in front of them. Diana Goodman (double cast with Bryony DuPont and Jocelyn Eisenlohr) is at the center of the story as the matriarch who struggles with bipolar disorder, delusions, and general depression. Dan Goodman (double cast with AJ Millet and Colin Salisbury) plays the role of peacekeeper, doing all he can to keep Diana steady through the show.
Siblings Natalie (Jasmin Nicole) and Gabe (Cailin Mackenzie) struggle to keep themselves together amongst the chaos in their parent’s personal lives.
As the play goes on, Diana’s delusions build to a boiling point, Natalie finds young love in the sweet stoner Henry (Donovan Cassell), and Dan puts on a happy face, trying to maintain it all. Doctors come and go (both doctors played by Ted deChatelet) and the cracks become clearer and clearer before things begin to break.
Director Ruth Mandsager promises that audiences will “feel everything” and is hopeful that Next to Normal will stick with you and promote discussions about these complicated issues.
“My hope is [that audiences] leave feeling moved and wanting conversation about these characters and how mental illness touches us all,” said Mandsager. “I also hope it opens people up to experiencing more theater that asks questions and stirs the soul.”
The show delivers a range of complex emotions, but needless to say... don’t forget your tissues.
Amongst the tears, laughs, and bittersweet smiles, you’ll find yourself tapping your foot to the beat all throughout the show’s eclectic soundtrack. This rock musical runs the gamut of styles, ranging from the heartstring pulling rock ballad “I Miss the Mountains” to the peppy ditty “I’m Alive”.
Music Director and Conductor Jim Martinez spoke to the show’s varied style and the ways in which his amazingly talented orchestra used their instruments to enhance every moment.
“The scope of the music ranges from soft-orchestral to 'on-fire' rock, which isn’t a surprise, given the story line,” details Martinez. “But the orchestration uses all of the instruments in ways that are so well suited for how individual instruments speak to the listener. A cello capturing the quiet and somber self-reflections; the strat guitar capturing the 'hair-on-fire' emotional angst of the characters.”
Every piece of this production is thoughtfully and intentionally placed, all to enhance the show’s immersion and messaging. The set’s metal frame and bare building blocks stand as a facade of the traditional American home, not unlike the facades that each Goodman family member puts up to hide what’s happening underneath. Lighting is used to great effect, with rock show strobes and focused spotlights helping to pull you into Diana’s delusions.
But those pieces are really tied together by the show’s incredible cast. Both pairs of actors playing Dan and Diana bring their own vulnerabilities to the roles that make the husband and wife duo incredibly relatable, yet wholly unique (which makes a second viewing necessary). Jasmin and Cailin bring a playful yet pained energy to the Goodman siblings. Donovan’s natural charisma makes Henry an instant fan favorite. Ted plays the sometimes questionable doctors with pitch-perfect sterility (and sex appeal, though we’ll let you find out why that matters).
Our Majestic mainstage has never seen a musical quite like this and the emotions it could pull out of you are both unexpected and cathartic.
Actor Bryony DuPont promises that the heavy material is presented in a way that is wholly relatable and enlightening.
“I think Next to Normal, if you’re not familiar with the show, might seem like a serious discussion of disturbing topics like mental illness and loss,” explained DuPont. “This show does discuss serious topics, but it does so in a very real and totally relatable way - the characters are funny and honest, and [the show] ultimately ends with a charge to find the beauty and light in life. I’ve never related so much to a piece of theatre as I have to Next to Normal.”
Her fellow Diana, actor Jocelyn Eisenlohr, echoed the sentiment and urged audiences to give this show a chance, maybe even two.
“Do not be afraid of the subject matter,” stated Eisenlohr. “Though at times serious, the story resolves with hope and light. You may want to see it more than once. Not to give away any spoilers, but when you see it the second time, you may see the show in a completely different light.”
Next to Normal is a different kind of musical. It’s modern, it’s painful, it’s all too relatable. But most of all, it’s necessary. Talk about mental health. Let this show stand as a jumping off point for deeper and more open discussions with your family and friends about the silent suffering so many of us go through on a day to day basis.
Next to Normal opens tonight and runs through Nov. 17. Tickets will run $18 for adults and $16 for students and seniors. There will be special $10 pricing for the Thursday performances. Content warnings available at ticketing page.