A mother with a bi-polar disorder and her family struggling with this paralyzing situation is the basis for the searing musical, Next to Normal. The national tour is playing at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT through Sunday, April 3, 2011.
The portrayal of a family at the precipice and how each member copes with their inner tensions, angst, and personal crises is riveting theater. Brian Yorkey’s libretto draws you into their individual anguishes, their setbacks, and small victories. It has been a long time since I have become so absorbed and emotionally involved with characters portrayed on stage.
All six actors are outstanding, which you would expect from a national tour, but do not always encounter. Each member of the company brings a strong intelligence and sensitivity to their role as well as a powerful singing voice to the Bushnell stage. Leading the cast is Alice Ripley, recreating her Tony Award winning role as the mother, Diana. Her performance is heartfelt and shattering. Also, to have a Tony Award winner leading a national company is a rare treat, one that should be taken advantage of by area theater-goers.
The raw energy and urgency of the rock-infused score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey amplifies the edginess and distress on stage. The music and lyrics convey the hurt, desperation, and even hope by the characters and demonstrates why the show’s score beat out Billy Elliot for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Score.
Director Michael Greif coaxes heart-wrenching performances from each actor as he slowly builds the emotional level of the show to its ultimate climax. He works in perfect tandem with Mark Wendland’s multi-level set, with its chain-linked motif an apt metaphor for the prison-like, caged feelings of the protagonists.
Next to Normal, musical theater at its best. At the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT through Sunday, April 3, 2011.