"Next to Normal" Uncommonly Excellent

Elizabeth Hurd Published: November 14, 2011

What constitutes normal?  The musical “Next to Normal” reveals an entire family ready to settle for just normal enough to function.  And to play such a dysfunctional family requires an entire cast of off-the-charts superior talent.  The cast of “Next to Normal” is such a cast. The powerful book and lyrics are by Brian Yorkey with music by Tom Kitt.  The award winning musical achieves the pinnacle of a Pulitzer Prize in 2010.

 “Next to Normal” is not a musical that is fun and frivolous; this is a serious drama about an extremely important subject presented in a powerful voice, backed by an exciting band.  “Next to Normal” plays at the Freede Auditorium in the Civic Center Music Hall in downtown Oklahoma City through November 20, 2011.  This production is a piece with all the power and all the voice for anyone afflicted with a mental illness and even more importantly, anyone who loves another.

CityRep presents “Next to Normal” under the excellent direction of Michael Jones.  Charles Koslowske as Musical Director leads a fantastic band in accompaniment to the exceptional voices of a professional cast.  A starkly depressing yet beautiful set from Scene Designer Amanda Foust provides an excellent backdrop for Jones to stage effectively.

So many versions of mental illness are labeled and mislabeled manic depression, bipolar disorder, erratic mood swings, depression and grief.  Almost everyone is connected personally to someone suffering from a form of mental illness and an objective perspective is virtually impossible. 

For years the character Diana Goodman is haunted by her demons and ghosts. Her diagnosis is manic depression or bipolar disorder. Not only is the illness profoundly ruining her life, it is just as devastating for her family.  Playing the role of Diana is Stacey Logan.  Logan brings to the role a complete understanding of the illness, a superb vocal talent and the interpretation of a confident and brilliant actress.  The audience is completely bowled over by this outstanding performance.

Lane Fields as husband and father Dan is every man and woman in the audience with a family member who has been saddled with such a diagnosis.  Anderson Daniel is the picture of every lost child haunting a family closet whose name brings too much pain.  Natalie comes to fearful life in every move and expression of actress Jennifer Hiemstra.  Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden are both played by Matthew Alvin Brown and his god complex strikes the gut with great power.  Jordan Justice as Henry, Natalie’s young and initially irresponsible yet sanely normal teen boyfriend brings a much desired ray of hope to the characters.

While the music and lyrics and story of Yorkey and Kitt are superb and well deserving of great acclamation, it is the subject tackled that makes this show Pulitzer material.  This is an indictment of the medical community, particularly the psychiatric community for categorizing grief as mental illness in the first place.  Accolades should be given to the sponsors of this production, particularly those in the Psychiatric industry for the guts to back this production.

Technically, the choice made by Sound Designer, W. Jerome Stevenson and Jones to provide individual microphones for each cast member rather than placing microphones strategically on stage is questionable.   Individual microphones create greater mobility and versatility in staging yet can dampen the vocal quality of voices in cases where the singers have the diaphragm to carry the sound and fury to the back of the auditorium.  This is a cast of powerful voices.  The Freede Theatre is a space able to acoustically handle these beautiful voices without individual microphones thereby giving an even greater clarity to these powerful performances.

For tickets call 405-848-3761.  If you are a mental health professional, patients and families need your attendance.  For everyone else:  you are not alone.