through April 3, 2011
by Vickie Phillips
A superior theatrical experience is at the Bushnell! "Next To Normal" proves to be a very exciting and profound musical. Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Score and Best Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley, both she and the production live up to "Best" in all aspects of theatre.
Set design by Mark Wendland is brilliant and allows the ensemble cast of actors to go beyond barriers, and a daring that soars with a gripping effect throughout the show. The theme is mental illness, presented within a most profound musical score. Ripley (Diana) and and Asa Somners (Dan) star; Michael Greif is the director. All are inventive and ingenious, taking the audience on a journey where the set moves back and forth, not unlike our lives, opening and closing on cue. From the opening song "Just Another Day" to the closing "There Will Be Light" the cast brims with exceptional voices and musicianship.
The audience responded with thunderous applause throughout the show. Acting is often defined as "fantasy made to look real," and this show validates many lives for hope with its many moments of seeming reality. Even for a dysfunctional family, where "some ghosts are never gone," the play has so many heartfelt moments of learning to accept a next to normal life. The show stresses the point that yes, in spite of it all, we do indeed get by!
The moments of flashbacks and the heart rendering aftermath of tragedy are brilliantly presented. Ripley holds nothing back in her seething portrayal of a wife set back by a life she could not come to grips with, even with the unflinching support as portrayed by of Sommers.
This truly is a brilliant play, along with the actors who give it onstage life.