Friday, April 29, 2011

Next to Normal at Bank of America Theater

Chicago is in for a huge emotional roller coaster when the national tour of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning “Next to Normal makes it Chicago stop April 26th thru My 8, 2011 at the Bank of America Theater.

The musical created by Tom Kitt who did the music and the book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey had originally been presented in workshops as concerts as “Feeling Electric” minus a lot of fleshing out that it has received since then. It originally opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage in 2008 then took the unusual path of moving to Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage where the creators were able to spend some time reworking it (I also remember rumblings that The Goodman in Chicago tried to get it) for which the finished version ended up on Broadway winning raves and awards.

The show's defiantly a powerhouse in every possible way. It's a show that brings out the emotions that can make you laugh and cry at the drop of a hat and is able by an amazing set that's structure to look like the inside of it's leading lady's mind where the windows serve as Eyes and the top of the house reminds you as her hair line.

The Goodman's are your typical all American family at least in appearances however as time goes by those appearances are harder and harder to main with the breakdown of the mother Diana's mental and emotional state leading to the destruction of everything around them. I know this is serious stuff and might turn people away from the show but the power and joy in this show is that they are able to find so much humor in their story telling and the characters are so defined you not only like this family but you end up rooting for them.

The star of the show is without a question is Tony and Helen Hayes award winner Alice Ripley as the mother Diana and to say that she is giving a breathtaking fully realized performance would still not be able to bestow the proper kudos to her. I have seen Ms. Ripley in other things and this was the moment where I felt like she was the character and not playing a showy role in a show. From the moment she's on stage to the final second you simply cannot take your eyes of her. I'm still not if her usual powerbelting vocals were dampened on purposes and some extremely noticeable notes were off but as a fan of her's I did notice that instead of producing powerful chest belting she was singing in a head voice for the show. Regardless that's just finding a quip she is simply sensational in the role and deserves all the love letters she has received or will receive.

As the rest of the “normal” family Asa Somers acts the role of the helpless father who feels powerless in being able to attend to Diana's sanity but he's sometimes let down by the strength of the score and the reality of his voice. To be fair to him I still can't believe that people are expected to sing this score 8times a week. As their children Curt Hansen is able to convey disconnection he has to everyone but his mother and sing this score with power and looks like he's working everything up there, Emma Hunton as Natalie their daughter not only plays the loneliness of the character but besides being able to powerfully belt out her music plays the rebellious aspect without sacrificing the audiences affection for her. In two small but important roles one being all about the emotion he so's Preston Sadleir is excellent even when you can clearing recognize the same mistakes him and Natalie are making are the same ones that her parents made when they were younger. On the other side of the spectrum Jeremy Kushnier as Dr. Madden is able to drain the emotion from his and give you the disconnection between sience and humity that many find to compain about the healthcare industry.

The show's rapid fire direction by Michael Grief and music are kept at an explosive pace but puts you in thought person suffering though issues. Everything about this production makes you feel connected without falling into overkill and makes you feel as if you were suffering though the breakdown of an all American family. Everything is so fluid and sometimes you don't get a moment to stop, breathe in, and return next to Normal but you do see the beauty in all of that from the start. If you get a chance please do see this amazing show you will not be disappointment.

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