Next to Normal
Rarely does a musical tackle such a serious—and worthy—topic as Next to Normal does with the subject of mental illness. How one deals, or doesn’t deal, with loss, grief and depression are the downer subjects that get an upbeat and hopeful treatment here.
Next to Normal tells the story of a mother, Diane Goodman (consummately played by Andrea Thorpe) who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effect the disease has upon the rest of her family. Her husband Dan (Darryl Strohl-De Herrera, who possesses the finest lyric singing voice you could ask for), ushers her to treatment after treatment, drug regime after drug regime until she reaches a point of no feeling—at which point a therapist pronounces her well. She is not, of course. Diane is plagued with the memory of a lost child to the point of ignoring her family that remains.
Kristina Dizon is Natalie, the ignored daughter, living always in the shadow of brother Gabe, played by charismatic Michael Roivas, who gives off a Roger Daltry vibe (particularly on the knockout “I’m Alive!”). Tylen Einweck brings youthful innocence to Henry, a would-be suitor of Natalie, and Taylor Presnall plays two therapists with different approaches to Diane’s treatment.
Director Bob Baxter and Runaway Stage Productions, using the West Sacramento Community Center’s Black Box Theatre for this show, make real what can only be imagined. The musical is as hard-rocking as it is hard-hitting. The smallish stage with audience seating on three sides creates an intimacy that is rare in a musical. But the seating creates a problem for some set changes, with rather large props being wheeled slowly and squeakily in tight quarters. The sound, which sometimes is a problem at the company’s 24th Street Theatre location, was troublesome here, too. Opening night, a loud “whoom” of feedback came through the speakers more than once, and a couple of voice mics didn’t always work perfectly. But these were really the only drawbacks in an otherwise excellent production.