Tuesday, March 5, 2013

NEXT TO NORMAL • New Line Theatre

Next to Normal had its Broadway debut in 2009 and won three Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  While it's not exactly your standard musical theatre fare, this hard driving rock musical (the second act, in particular, is practically a rock-opera) focuses on the mental illness of a suburban mom and her family -- coming apart at the seams as a result.  The national tour came through St. Louis in 2011, and New Line Theatre presents it in its St. Louis regional premiere with scorching intensity, dotted with dark humor.

The mother at the center of the story, Diana Goodman (Kimi Short), was diagnosed with manic depression sixteen years ago, and has withstood a battery of treatments administered by her doctors, Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine (Zachary Allen Farmer).  Everything from different pharmaceutical cocktails to electroconvulsive therapy to hypnosis, and none of them seem to do much good.  Her husband Dan (Jeffrey M. Wright), as tortured as he is, is also supportive -- desperately trying to hold the family together.

Ryan Foizey (Gabe) and Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Their teenage son Gabe (Ryan Foizey), an ever present source of pleasure and pain to Diana, seems mostly unaffected by her illness, but the teenage daughter Natalie (Mary Beth Black), resents her mother for keeping a constant cloud over the Goodman home, and lives in fear of becoming like her.  Natalie does get a bit of a respite from the family drama with Henry (Joseph McAnulty) her amiable stoner boyfriend.

The cause of Diana's condition are doled out bit by bit, and spoilers would be a travesty, but trust me when I say, this production shows that musicals need not be tied up with a shiny bow at the end to be a wonderfully satisfying experience.

Joseph McAnulty (Henry), Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan),
Ryan Foizey (Gabe) and Mary Beth Black (Natalie).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Kimi Short and Jeffrey M. Wright as Diana and Dan respectively, have portrayed couples in past New Line productions, and under Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy's fluid direction, they have great chemistry together and good voices, as well as being able to capably pull off the acting demands of the roles.  Short, whose role carries much of the weight of the show, does an exceptional job.  Ryan Foizey as Gabe is a powerful presence, bringing loads of passion and charisma to his scenes.  Joseph McAnulty does a fine job as Henry and is very likable as Natalie's beau.  And Mary Beth Black -- geez, who is this kid?!?  She brings a beautifully solid voice to Natalie and both of the youngsters do great work.  Great work also from New Line's "go-to-guy" Zachary Allen Farmer as Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Dr. Madden), Ryan Foizey (Gabe)
and Kimi Short (Diana).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
It's nice to hear Farmer in a role like this, just like it's nice to hear and see Wright in such a heavy role.  Both do them very well.  The New Line band (yay, strings!), under the direction of Justin Smolik, does a fine job, although they over-power the singing on occasion.  Many of the big numbers like "Just Another Day", "Who's Crazy" / "My Psychopharmacologist and I" and "Make Up Your Mind" / "Catch Me I'm Falling" completely soar.  Scott L. Schoonover's set is adorned with pill bottles and off-kilter elements, like side-ways doors and light fixtures, intact and broken glass mirrors, all nicely lit by Sean Savoie along with nice costumes by Amy Kelly.

This is a show that I was enamored with on Broadway, along with a couple of times at the Fox.  The opportunity to see this emotionally packed, captivating production in such an intimate space in our own backyard should not be missed.  It's playing until the 23rd.


Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan)
and Kimi Short (Diana).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
NEXT TO NORMAL

Book/lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through March 23 | tickets: $10 - $15
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Cast:
Kimi Short (Diana), Jeffrey M. Wright (Dan), Mary Beth Black (Natalie), Ryan Foizey (Gabe), Joseph McAnulty (Henry), and Zachary Allen Farmer (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine).

Creative:
Costume design by Amy Kelly; lighting design by Sean Savoie; scenic design by Scott L. Schoonover; sound design by Kevin Miko; music direction by Justin Smolik; stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

Kimi Short (Diana) and Mary Beth Black (Natalie).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Justin Smolik; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; cello, Ethan Edwards, violin, Nikki Glenn; bass, Dave Hall; percussion, Clancy Newell.

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