A Review of “Next to Normal”

I wanted my first post to be about literature or dorm life, but something more important has come across my desk.  63rd Street Productions, a company based in Saugatuck, Michigan, is showing a musical by the name of “Next to Normal,” and it is my personal opinion that you ought to see it.  This post is not sponsored, just true.

“Next to Normal” is  about a family struggling with the pain of a mother who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  As someone who has been a witness to Bipolar Disorder, I can say that their depiction of the disease is raw and accurate.  I found myself being pulled into the struggles of this family as they made every attempt to cure the disease which ails the mother figure, Diana.  Without the grandeur of a 50 person cast or a 20 piece pit, 63rd Street Productions put out a musical which was profoundly moving – yet intimate.

A majority of the dialogue in this production was passed through song, and I could not help but marvel at the vocal abilities of all six actors in this production.  Each was unique, but powerful and fitting to their character.  I recall the first time I heard each one sing – and the chills that ran down my spine as the story progressed.  I can promise that you will not regret seeing this musical.

Although the subject material is heavy, there is humor to be found in the darkness.  The imagery of light and dark is powerful – drawing viewers to the small stage at the Red Barn Theater.  I found myself genuinely shocked by each plot twist.  For those of you who are like me, I recommend bringing a little packet of tissues to the second act.  The emotions of these talented actors are raw and moving to the point of tears.  Through the mere two hours I sat in the barn, I experienced anger, fear, sadness, and most of all – hope.  In my own situation, I found myself relating the the brilliant actors on stage.  For a moment, Diana’s illness was my own.  I sat in the car waiting with the father figure, Dan.  I struggled with family and relationships alongside daughter Natalie and boyfriend Henry.  I even pressed Diana to seek treatment with Dr. Madden.  Although I did not relate as much to the son figure, Gabe, I found myself longing for him as much as I pushed back from him.

I distinctly recall trying to define a protagonist and antagonist in the story, but realizing that there was no direct antagonist.  Depending on your situation, you may fault different characters for the struggles this family faces, but in the end?  There are no “good guys” and “bad guys,” only raw, human emotion, and the reaction of the characters experiencing it.

I can not end this post without acknowledging the other brilliant people who had a hand in this musical.  There was a five-piece pit just beside the stage whose power was mystifying.  From such a small number came such incredible power!  They are at the wheel, leading you through the plot of this musical.  Behind the rows of chairs sat the technicians, who managed to create a mood in a single scene which was beyond my imagination.  I am nothing shy of impressed.

Finally, director Shane Michael Lynn deserves some credit, a lot of credit, actually.  This director’s connection to the work clearly showed through the power of this piece, and was clearly communicated through the dedicated actors.

Over all, a top-notch show I am itching to go see again!  If you have time and a few extra dollars, make your way down to the Red Barn Theater in Saugatuck, Michigan to experience this performance before time runs out.  They are showing until May 22nd.  Visit http://www.redbarn63rdstreet.com for more information, or to purchase your ticket.  I cannot recommend this musical highly enough.