Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 5, 2013

Next to Normal

Opera House Players, Broadbrook, CT
through May 19, 2013
by Felicity Hardy

"Next to Normal" is the story of Diana, a wife and mother suffering from bipolar disorder, delusions, and hallucinations. Dan, her steadfast husband, tries to hold the family together in the wake of Diana's illness and a years-old family tragedy that he doesn't want to acknowledge. Natalie, her teenage daughter, struggles to find herself despite feeling neglected. As Diana experiences the highs and lows of her mental illness and attempts new methods of treatment. The audience is left wondering: will this family survive?

This is not an easy show to produce. Few moments of laughter help keep "Next to Normal" from becoming a preachy melodrama. Without genuinely heartfelt dedication from both the acting and direction, the play is two-dimensional. Under the direction of Sharon FitzHenry, the Opera House Players manage to find that delicate balance between tragedy and humor. Sarah Gilbert (Diana), Luis Manzi (Dan), Tomm Knightlee (Gabe), Kate Elmendorf (Natalie), Josiah Durham (Henry), and Randy Davidson (Doctor) are each exceptional in their roles, offering powerful and nuanced performances. They flawlessly handle Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's complicated pop-rock score (helped along by a phenomenal pit orchestra led by Bill Martin), but never forget that first and foremost, they are actors telling a story. The plot is mostly expressed through song, and the actors' diction and the clarity of the sound design are paramount that every lyric can be understood.

A couple of microphone mistakes and a wheelchair getting caught on a corner were the only noticeable glitches, with the rest of the show running at a smooth, fast pace which rare for an opening-night community theatre performance. This production of "Next to Normal" takes the best of what community theatre has to offer and delivers a professional and heartfelt production with a message of hope.

The audience was small, but captivated by the show's plot, often too engrossed in the material to find places to applaud. "Next to Normal" is a must-see night of theatre.