note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Kevin Killavey
The most recent musical from the up and coming Footlights Repertory Company is anything but normal. “Next To Normal” itself is an abnormal show, in that it is the only Musical ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama without even being nominated. Add to that 4 Tony Awards and you start to realize “Next to Normal” is not normal, it’s extraordinary. Written by Brian Yorkey with Music by Tom Kitt “Next to Normal” tells the story of the Goodman family, their trials, tribulations and triumphs.
Diana Goodman struggles with mental instability and depression, leaving her husband Dan and Daughter Natalie to try and pick up the pieces as she falls apart. Her son Gabe seems to be the only one holding her together, but he has a big problem of his own. After going to several doctors Diana finally seems to have found a treatment that worked, but the aftershocks of it may finally be what tears the family apart. Add to that daughter Natalie being ignored by her parents and finding solace in a caring, albeit stoner, boyfriend Henry and you have a complex and profound musical. And despite how heavy the subject matter, author Brian Yorkey still manages to throw in plenty of lighter moments as well.
Footlights production lives up to hype of “Next to Normal” and then some. Director Jen Bellanti has done a fantastic job, helping the actors breathe depth and life into their characters while creating powerful stage pictures with clear storytelling. Bellanti’s greatest accomplishment of course was the casting, as every single actor seemed like they were born for their roles.
Lisa Tavares has big shoes to fill, living up to Tony Award winning performance of Alice Ripley in the original production, but she does an amazing job. Lisa deftly handles the startling transition of Diana throughout the play, and she has a killer voice to round out a fantastic overall performance. Her real life Husband John Tavares plays her husband Dan in the musical, and he breathes a compassion and empathy into his character that compels the audience to feel for his struggle. And it should go without saying in this production, but he too has an amazing Baritone and sings beautifully throughout the musical. The couples voices shine through together, along with son Gabe, in the powerful number “I Am the One”
The children of the Goodman family: Gabe and Natalie, played by Matt Silva and Kasey Jeronimo have voices that seem like they were made to sing together. Their harmonies blend together sweetly on songs like “Superboy and The Invisible Girl” and “Just Another Day”. Gabe handles the complex and very difficult role of Gabe expertly, being charming one minute and hauntingly powerful in the next. While Kasey Jeronimo is brings a sharp wit to the teen Angst of Natalie, and she does a fantastic job of highlighting the dark journey of her character as well. Her beau in the show: Henry, played by John Cardoza, shows a sweetness and playful immaturity in his character at first and does an excellent job transforming his character while he watches Natalie’s struggle. Cardoza’s voice shines through on all his numbers, despite the minor mic issues he had at first that were quickly fixed by Stage Manager Diane Durand. Cardoza was accepted in the Boston Conservatory, so we are sure to be seeing great things from him in the future.
Last, and certainly not least, is Matthew Brendan Ford as the Doctor’s Fine and Madden. Ford brings an amazing sense of balance to his character, with laugh out loud comic timing in one second and true sincerity in the next. He has a Broadway quality command of the stage and focus and a has a Fierce voice to boot.
Next to Normal is a powerful show, and it is not for everyone. It deals with heavy issues with some adult content. However, this production does a stupendous job of bringing a complex and emotional musical to life on the stage. And it is not just complex emotionally, the music itself is extremely complex and required a great deal of work from Musical Director Eli Bigelow that clearly paid off. The Band works the complicated music with ease, especially Janelle Rousell on drums who really shone in “Song of Forgetting”. All the band members played with Broadway quality precision and brought an amazing depth and feel to the emotional music that the actor’s only needed to highlight with their amazing performances. So go see Footlights production of “Next to Normal” for an amazing night of theatre, if you make it your next theater experience I can promise it will be anything but “normal”.
Next to Normal Runs April 19th-22nd at BMC Durfee HS Nagle Auditorium in Fall River, MA 7 PM Curtain.