by Lynn on May 10, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the CAA Theatre (formerly Panasonic Theatre), Toronto, Ont.

Music by Tom Kitt

Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Directed by Philip Akin

Musical staging by Tracey Flye

Musical direction by Lily Ling

Set and lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Michael Laird

Costumes by Alex Amini

Cast: Troy Adams

Brandon Antonio

Nathan Carroll

Ma-Anne Dionisio

Louise Pitre

Stephanie Sy

A gripping, moving show about adult depression: perceptive, creative and it’s a musical. Sung beautifully.

The Story:  Next to Normal with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, is about Diana who is a wife and mother. She is also under a psychiatrist’s care for depression, bi-polar disorder and intense grief. She is morning the death of her child who died many years before.  Her husband Dan is loving and patient. Her daughter Natalie has a harder time coping with her mother’s illness. Natalie feels abandoned because everything takes a back seat to Diana’s long, ongoing dealing with her illness.

Natalie is a music student and key moments in her life are not celebrated because her mother is not well enough to go and hear her daughter play in concerts.  That takes its toll. There is another mysterious presence that seems to hover over all of them and they deal with it in their own way.

Diana has her husband Dan to support and be of comfort to her. Natalie meets a young man named Henry at school who loves and encourages her too. So these people are not alone. It’s a world with people who love and care for those in trouble.

The Production. Steve Lucas’ set is enclosed by two large walls that come together in a closed V shape almost jutting out into the audience. The walls then open up revealing a two leveled set with a spiral staircase joining the two levels. Furniture is spare.

As with all musicals it seems these days, everybody is microphoned including the off-stage band and it does sound almost too loud with lyrics being drowned out. There must be a better way of balancing the sound.

 There is a sense of urgency in this production, urgency to be calm; urgency to find a solution to medical problems; urgency to be normal or if that’s too hard, next to normal. It’s directed by Philip Akin who keeps the pace going as characters are always in a rush it seems to deal with crises.

Tom Kitt’s music fits the characters better than if the songs are stand alone melodic hits. There is a throbbing thrust to them, almost anthem like. And Brian Yorkey’s lyrics illuminate that murky world of depression and anxiety so that we all can get a sense of how these characters are feeling about the world in which they are living.

This cast is fine led by the wonderful Ma-Anne Dionisio as Diana. She is both fragile and fierce as she navigates the world of mental illness and the many and various pills and treatments she endures.  There is both power and tenderness in her singing.

Troy Adams is equally as strong as Dan, her loving husband. He has been there for Diana for the whole duration of the depression; he has his challenges to cope as well. It’s all clear in the performance. Stephanie Sy as Natalie is weighted down by her own sense of being abandoned by her family as she tries to navigate her own rocky path. Natalie almost has a chip on her shoulder until she meets Henry, played beautifully by Nathan Carroll. Carroll reacts so subtly and yet so resoundingly to Natalie’s efforts to rebuff him. But he keeps on trying to break through her shell. Henry is not a bully. He is a sensitive man who sees a kindred spirit in Natalie.

Louise Pitre plays Dr. Madden who is compassionate and caring. When Dr. Madden has to make a hard decision in Diana’s treatment you can appreciate the complexity of it by Louise Pitre’s reticence and gentleness in recommending it. And Pitre’s ability to listen in stillness makes Dr. Madden all the more compelling.

Finally Brandon Antonio plays Gabe, the mystery presence in that family’s life. He is buoyant at times, persistent and even dangerous. It’s another way of showing what that family is going through.

Comment.   Next to Normal is a Broadway Musical (2009) that won a Tony award for the score and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama among others. It deals with serious subjects—mental illness, bi-polar disorder, intense grief– and you watch characters deal with their demons. There are no real villains here. You just root for all of them.

I love the boldness of dealing with these subjects in musical form. You can deal better in a musical form with subjects that might not be served as well in a play form. Take a look at Dear Evan Hanson which is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre—it deals with teenage suicide and anxiety—also an award winning Broadway musical.  Theatre reflects the world we live in.

I would recommend Next to Normal for anyone who loves musicals with an edge and grit,that treat serious subjects in a serious way.

David Mirvish presents The Musical Stage Co. production:

Began: April 26, 2019.

Closes: May 19, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes.



Leave a Comment