Hey all....before you even begin reading this, remember that I'm NOT a theatre critic by profession, nor do I claim to be. However, I had the privilege of seeing an outstanding production recently and thought it deserved more than just a 'Hey, you should really see this!!!' mention on my blog - so I wrote a review of sorts. That being said....here's what I wrote.
I hope you're all well....and if you're in the Boston area....seriously, you should really see this!! :-)
My first exposure to 'Next To Normal' was when I bought the CD and listened to it pretty much non-stop until I was getting sick of listening to it. That’s generally the way things go for me when I get a new recording, especially if it’s one that I enjoy.
One of Jim’s college friends (Jessica Phillips) was part of the show from the early ‘workshop days’, and ended up staying with the show throughout most of its Broadway run, covering Alice Ripley who played the role of the mother, Diana. There were a few attempts on our part to get to New York in order to see the show when Jessica went on, but unfortunately we never got there to see it.
The last time that I was in New York City (in the fall of 2009 – how sad is THAT?!?!) I saw several shows, but decided against seeing ‘Next To Normal’ at that time. I mean, I was very interested in seeing it, but the only tickets they had available were obstructed view and WAY too expensive – no thanks.
We were however, finally able to see the show (with the original Broadway cast) through another way, that I will not explain any further as it may land me in the hoosegow (Google it) if I do. That being said, it was a thrill to finally see the show, especially with the original cast, and for FREE!!! Seeing it helped to answer lots of questions that I had based on the fact that all I’d done was listen to the show.
Why all this information? I’ll tell you why….
After MUCH anticipation, I was finally able to see the Boston premiere of ‘Next To Normal’ on Sunday afternoon, and boy am I glad I did. At this point it’s been about 3 days since I saw it, and it’s still on my mind. I don’t want to go into too much detail regarding the plot, because I think it’s more powerful if you go into the show without knowing what’s going to happen and let the show speak for itself. Let’s just say that it’s the story about a family who is dealing with mental illness and the situations that they’re faced with as a result.
Kudos to Paul Daigneault (Director) for assembling an amazing cast who are all nearly perfect in each of their roles. As is typical with one of Paul’s productions, his vision is so clear and the transitions from scene to scene are so well-executed that you remain completely engaged in the story and are free to go along for the ‘ride’ that the characters are going on.
Sarah Drake, who plays Natalie (the daughter of Dan and Diana), embodies the role of the ‘tortured teen’ perfectly. She is completely believable throughout the story, so much fun to watch, and she sings the difficult role effortlessly…..loved her. Michael Levesque plays Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend, and does so with great success. He’s got a great voice, which is perfectly suited for the role, and while he’s pursuing Natalie throughout the show, you can’t help but root for him to win her over. Chris Caron, in dual roles as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden manages to make you see things from his point of view as he struggles with how to deal with his difficult patient and the rest of her family. Who would have ever thought that you’d be feeling the stress/sadness/anxiety that the doctor was going through when dealing with a situation like this?! I didn’t think I would, but to be honest, there were times when I really saw things from his point of view and completely understood what he must have been going through. Michael Tacconi plays the role of Gabe, who is Diana and Dan’s son. He’s got a fantastic voice and there are certain moments that he had throughout the show that had me reaching for a Kleenex.
The role of Dan is expertly played by Christopher Chew. Chris has been away from the Boston theatre ‘scene’ for FAR too long, so it was an extra special treat seeing him back on stage again. His portrayal of Dan was out of this world. He sang the role as if it were written specifically for him (I’m not a huge fan of J. Robert Spencer on the cast recording) and was equally as great in the acting department. Kerry A. Dowling, who is no stranger to SpeakEasy stage has reached new heights in the role of Diana. From the very start of the show she engages the audience and makes them want to hear her story. She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you cry and she’ll make you forget that you’re sitting in a theatre in the middle of the South End. The role of Diana is extremely difficult to sing, and she handles the score with ease. Whether she’s blowing the roof off the place, or settling in for a quiet moment, you can’t help but be drawn in to her every word. Hers is a performance not to be missed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the expert musical direction of Nicholas James Connell. He not only made this extremely talented cast sound amazing, but assembled the off-stage orchestra that accompanied the ensemble so expertly throughout the evening. There were several moments where the ensemble sound (of the cast) was so good - whether it was a perfectly placed note or a ringing chord, that really made me take a moment and think “Wow….nice job Mr. Musical Director….that sounded GREAT.”
Finally, I have to mention the extremely talented design team. The versatile and well used (again, thanks to Paul D.) set design of Eric Levenson, which was enhanced by the extremely creative (and at often times humorous) projection work of Seaghan McKay and the lighting design of Jeff Adelberg. Of course, without a costume designer, we’d be looking at God only knows what on stage, so I have to mention Tyler Kinney who designed the costumes, which were well done and suited each character perfectly.
All in all, this was a show that I would highly recommend to everyone. In the past, when I when I’ve listened to the recording or when I saw the show, it really felt like the focus was really on Diana and what she was going through. In SpeakEasy’s production of ‘Next To Normal’, Paul Daigneault and the cast succeed in allowing you to see the show from the perspective of each of the characters and how they’re being affected, which makes for a much more interesting, rewarding, and enjoyable experience.
Go HERE now to get your tickets…….
Here are some pictures from the production:
All photos were taken by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
From left: Sarah Drake, Christopher Chew, Kerry A. Dowling
From left: Michael Tacconni, Kerry A. Dowling, Christopher Chew
Kerry A. Dowling
From left: Chris Caron, Kerry A. Dowling
From left: Sarah Drake, Michael Levesque