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Next to Normal
a Musical
by Brian Yorkey(Book/Lyrics) and Tom Kitt (Music)

COMPANY : Elm Street Cultural Arts Village [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Elm Street Cultural Arts Village [WEBSITE]
ID# 4856

SHOWING : February 19, 2016 - March 06, 2016



A feel everything musical. Following a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness and the attempts to alleviate it have on her family. The musical also addresses such issues as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life.

Director Shelly McCook
Music Director Chris Nanny
Stage Manager Allie Noele Hendrix
Henry Ryan Brennan
Gabe Goodman Brody Grant
Diana Goodman Mary Hayes Ernst
Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden Andy Meeks
Natalie Goodman Claire Pappas
Dan Goodman Scott Simmons
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Too Many Cooks
by playgoer
Monday, February 22, 2016
The disappointments with "Next to Normal" at Elm Street Cultural Arts Village start with the poorly designed, poorly proofread program that omits character names and band credits and is printed primarily in lavender on purple in a tiny font. The focus of this company for this production is hinted by the only easily readable portion of the program: a tear-out form for joining and donating. The focus on local involvement is emphasized by extended speeches before the show, during intermission, and in the post-show talkback.

Community involvement extends to most of the production credits. The unremarkable costumes are credited to 11 people (for a cast size of six). The workable set is credited to nine, and has the disjointed hallmarks of design by committee. The nearly incompetent (although ambitious) lighting and amplified sound schemes are credited to five. The Hospitality Team (ushers and box office people, perhaps?) outnumber all the rest, at 12. Getting people involved seems to be the goal, with production values themselves a seemingly secondary concern.

Director Shelly McCook adds to the problems by blocking numerous scenes with characters sitting on the lip of the stage. With the gently sloping floor of the auditorium, this tends to create obstructed views when other audience members are sitting between you and the stage. Luckily, this type of blocking tends to last long enough for you to crane your neck to get a relatively unobstructed view for that particular scene. Otherwise, the blocking contains a great deal of movement, but nothing that could be called choreography.

Chris Nanny’s musical direction is quite good, with voices across the board encouraged to sound their best. The band generally sounds good too, aside from a few sour notes from the string section, but the sound balance between cast and band is too heavy on the band side when one factors in the inconsistent microphone levels for various cast members.

The acting talents of the cast don’t tend to match their vocal prowess. This was brought to the fore for me in the slightly optimistic finale, where only Claire Pappas had an expression on her face consistent with the lyrics. All the others had either no expression or one that read as "I’m singing as loud as I can." No one is bad in the least, but only Claire Pappas, as the daughter, and Brody Grant, as the son, seem truly to inhabit their characters (although the lack of amplification of Mr. Grant’s voice negatively affected his impact at the performance I saw). I could listen to the voice of Scott Simmons (the husband) all day, but I found it was his bio’s listing of Uncle Fester as a credit that colored my impression of him, and I found the physical appearance of Mary Hayes Ernst (the wife) so reminiscent of director Shelly McCook that I couldn’t help comparing her performance unfavorably to what Ms. McCook could do with the acting demands of the role.

"Next to Normal" addresses mental illness with measures of humor and vulgarity and an abundance of vocal melody. The story has an undeniable impact, but I find the echoes of Nora’s leaving home in "A Doll’s House" a bit off-putting, as it is followed by a sequence hinting that maybe the wife isn’t the most mentally ill person in her family. I find the ending both unsatisfying and pat, but I guess that mental illness as a topic doesn’t lend itself to any sort of resolution other than acceptance and ongoing treatment. The post-show talkback allows in-depth discussion of the topic.

Bringing representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to the underserved population of Cherokee County is admirable as community outreach. Having the outreach take precedence over the Tony-winning, Pulitzer-winning script and score of "Next to Normal" makes, however, for a less-than-satisfying theatrical experience. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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