by Corinne Whiting
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Without fail, story lines about dysfunctional families pique interest. Exploring this volatile and intriguing topic through a rock musical, that screams pure genius. Through March 2, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Next to Normal,” described by some as “an emotional powerhouse,” brings an entirely different type of family drama to Balagan Theatre. The musical takes on tough but important issues from parenthood and grief to marriage and ethics in modern psychiatry. Artistic director Brandon Ivie explains, “‘Next to Normal’ is a story not so unique: a family fighting to hold together in times of struggle. What is unique is its rare mix of raw emotion, dry sense of humor and blunt honesty set to a pulsing, theatrical score. ‘Next to Normal’ doesn’t give us a solution for life’s problems, but it gives us hope that we can push through and find a way to survive.”
The captivating show first played onstage at Issaquah’s Village Theatre, then later found immense success on Broadway, and while touring the country. In addition to making a nearly two-year Broadway run, the show won three Tony Awards (including Best Score and Best Leading Actress), and became the 8th musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now, “Next to Normal” finally returns to the Pacific Northwest for its Seattle premiere on Capitol Hill.
Co-presented by Contemporary Classics, the production features music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics by Issaquah-native Brian Yorkey. Spectators walk away humming catchy tunes (R.J. Tancioco directs the music) like “I’m Alive” and “I Am the One.” (Who knew that a plot anchored in mental illness and family tragedy could also weave in elements of levity, humor and optimism?)
Director Ivie counts among his Broadway credits “Catch Me if You Can” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical.” Beth DeVries impressively stars as conflicted mom Diana Goodman, and Auston James stars as her husband Dan. As the story unfolds, a hidden family past comes to light, and the audience witnesses different coping mechanisms that the couple uses to get by. Ryan McCabe doubles as two doctors attempting to treat Diana for her bipolarism, and the show’s youngsters are played by Kody Bringman (as son Gabe), Keaton Whittaker (as daughter Natalie) and Ryan Hotes (as love interest Henry).
Production highlights include peeks at the enthusiastic band members (who jam out on either side of the set), and the palpable potential brought to the stage by young talents like Whittaker. The audience leaves the theater oddly reassured that, although each family has its quirks and challenges, we all do the best we can to love one another as we are.
At Balagan (a Hebrew slang word that signifies a sort of chaos that typically turns out for the best), the mission is simple: to use innovative programming and local talent to draw new audiences to the theater. Reserved tickets for “Next to Normal” cost $25, and discounted tickets are available at $20. The theater’s mainstage season concludes in April with the darkly comic, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “August: Osage County.”
Visit balagantheatre.org for more information.