Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Next to Normal at ZACH

copyright 2012 Kirk Tuck

Next to Normal has been playing for weeks now at ZACH and I only just had time to see it. Now time is running out for you to see it-- it plays through March 4th only. Since I am tight on time, and/but also since I don't want to delay telling you to go to the show, this might be my shortest review ever. Ready:

Go to the show!

Okay, a little more about why I really dig this show. First, it's a musical about bipoloar disorder. Uh, hello? Can you say cognitive dissonance? Not since Citizen Ruth, a comedy about abortion have I been so intrigued by such an odd mashup of theme/medium.

I admit, when the first number started, I had a split second of Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into? Because other than the title and "musical about bipolar" I had no idea what the play held in store. Wait, I did know one other thing. I knew it stars Meredith McCall, and she is such a badass (Drowsy Chaperone, Santaland Diaries, lots of other great stuff) that I figured it had to be good.  I was right, and it turns out my initial squirming, I fast realized, was me settling into accepting hat this production was not of the Guys and Dolls variety.

Once I got that out of the way, I very fast got swept away by the show. Our main character, Diana, has some pretty serious mental shit going on. I, myself, have suffered horrible bouts of deep depression over the years, so it was pretty easy to connect to her distress as written by playwright Brian Yorkey. It was even easier to connect since McCall's palpable anxiety and gloom sucked us all right in.

My anti-spoiler stance is on super-duper high for this show. I'm not giving away another bit of the plot, except to say that what gets explored is how one person's mental illness hardly is isolated to that one person's life and mind. Diana's family-- husband Dan (Jamie Goodwin), son Gabe (Andrew Cannata), daughter Natalie (Kelli Shultz)-- are all crippled by it. The cast is rounded out by Natalie's boyfriend, Henry (Johnny Newcomb) and Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden (Joshua Denning), who treats Diana with mixed results.

Every performer here pulls his/her weight magnificently. This is a show with a lot of echoes in it, as history threatens to repeat. A device used the great effect is a two-level set that allows us a horizontal split screen view of two scenes at once. The music and lyrics are really great, too.

Before the show, the stranger sitting next to me and my companion told us that the show would leave us sobbing. It's true, my companion gently wept. But I never did. Instead I found myself actually grinning during several scenes where that might not have seemed an appropriate response. But as someone who has wrestled with so many demons, I have to say it really feels GREAT when such issues are trotted out and explored, destigmatized as a result. Maybe it's misery loves company, maybe it's strength in numbers. Whatever it is, Next to Normal, directed by Dave Steakley, really works.

For more info and tickets, go to the ZACH site.

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