Diana Goodman (Alice Ripley) is a modern American wife and mother who has struggled for well over a decade with bipolar disorder and delusions. As Diana's symptoms once again push to the forefront of the Goodmans' lives, the strain shows on her devoted husband Dan (Asa Somers) and her high-strung daughter Natalie (Emma Hunton), who is convinced that success in school is her ticket out of the family home. Only Diana's son (Curt Hansen) seems to take his mother's mental illness in stride, keeping up his teenage heartthrob swagger.
Unhappy with a regimen of drugs that leaves her feeling nothing, Diana leaves her current doctor to work with Doctor Madden (both played by Jeremy Kushnier), who Dan believes is a "rock star" of the mental health world. But Diana questions the treatment options offered by Doctor Madden as well.
As Natalie finds new hope (and new fears) for the future in her first boyfriend (Preston Sadleir), her parents struggle to keep the life they've built from falling apart under the strain of both an unstable present and a traumatic past.
Alice Ripley won a Tony Award for her Broadway portrayal of Diana Goodman, and she also got rave reviews here in Toronto. And certainly Ripley gives an incredible performance of a woman in danger of losing herself, but I thought Emma Hunton was a real stand-out as well. Hunton's solid voice, genuine humour, and rich character moments made Natalie both unique and familiar, and often drew the daughter's story to the forefront. There were excellent performances across the board however, and the entire cast should be commended.
Next to Normal is staged on multilevel platforms which leave the musicians in view and provide the framework for some multimedia screens and allow for much running up and down stairs (this is not really a musical with dance numbers). The set and lighting design work well, and fit the rock musical style of the songs.
In all, a night at Next to Normal is likely to be challenging, rewarding and darkly entertaining... much like an evening spent with some families must be.
A Few Additional Notes on the Subject Matter
In 2009 Marcia Purse, About.com's Guide to Bipolar Disorder, conducted an interview with Next to Normal's writer and lyricist Brian Yorkey about the inspiration, research and development of the show. In it, Yorkey states:
...even if our immediate families haven't experienced these exact issues, we've all struggled with a family dynamic that's...challenging. We recognize ourselves and our family members in the Goodmans. Some of the PR for the show says it's about "a family in crisis," and I always add, "But really, what family isn't?"
The interview offers insights which will be of interest to those who want to know more about how a major musical comes together, and how some people who are dealing with mental illness have responded to the show.
For those who are primarily interested in the mental health issues, it's worth noting that both the Canadian Psychological Association and the Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere (F.A.M.E.) had full page ads in the show program.
Next to Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Michael Grief
Cast: Alice Ripley, Asa Somers, Curt Hansen, Emma Hunton, Preston Sadleir, Jeremy Kushnier
July 19th - July 30th, 2011
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
145 Queen Street West
Show start time is 7:30pm; running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with one 20 minute intermission.
Warnings: Herbal tobacco, strobe lights and coarse language. Content may be inappropriate for ages 13 and under.
To purchase tickets call 416-644-3665 or visit www.dancaptickets.com