Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 21, 2014

Next to Normal

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through June 1, 2014
by K. J. Rogowski

Musicals by their very nature can present a challenge, in finding the right singers who can act, or actors who can sing. But, add to that, a serious central theme such as a family struggling with the impact of a family member with a long history of bi-polar disorder, and that challenge is increased.  

That said, this presentation of "Next To Normal" meets and exceeds on both of those challenges. Working with an excellent script, which relies on very little dialogue but conveys the characters' inner struggles and situations, and interpersonal conflicts between the family members through their songs, this cast of six easily draws the audience into the instability and anxiety of trying to get through a single day and some of the most mundane daily tasks, when no one knows what might happen next.

Sue Dziura and Tom Nunes as the parents, trying to hold their marriage together, and Emery Henderson and Daniel Plimpton as their teen children caught in the middle, portray an average family, living with a real, puzzling, and sometimes debilitating disorder. As their story unfolds, visible are parallels between the parents' struggles and those of their daughter and her new found boy friend, played by Josiah Durham. Add to this upheaval, the many visits to Doctor Fine and then to Doctor Madden, both played by Freddie Marion, is the question of which plan and medication cocktail will bring some relief and stability which blur like the patient's view and hope of normalcy. The authors play a name game, with our average family, the Goodmans, treatened by their doctors, "fine" and "madden."

Greg Trochlil's set design, comprised of clean institutional lines and generic panels, with smooth gray steel furniture, and puzzle piece gray floor reflect and enhance that gray zone that is the Goodman's life, and the disorder that they must deal with. The strength of this show is the strong voices of the cast, both in their ability to deliver on the music and to create characters who are real/next door people who tell their story, and make us care about what happens.