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Alliance Production of ‘Next to Normal’ is Anything But

By Jan Jaben-Eilon

Take the story of a family dealing with mental illness, add several doses of realistic portrayals of people’s emotions and relationships, and add -- a rock concert? It would seem not to compute, but the Alliance Theatre’s performance of “Next to Normal” is simply extraordinary on every level. 

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s unique and powerful musical first opened on Broadway in 2009. It won two Tony awards for the score and collected the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, only the eighth musical ever to accomplish that feat. It’s not surprising. The story is played out through astonishing song and dance that keeps audiences at the edge of their seats. 

This is the story of Diana, a suburban mother, whose unfolding mental illness reverberates through the family. No one is spared. Her husband, Dan, presented by Bob Gaynor (pictured below with Catherine Porter), lovingly stands with her as she fights for her sanity, hoping against hope that the family can return to normal.

 

Daughter Natalie, portrayed by Lyndsay Ricketson, suffers typical teenage angst aggravated by her mother’s gyrating emotions, all the while wondering what is normal. The puzzling character of son Gabe is persuasively acted by Cary Tedder. Diana is convincingly and excruciatingly played by Catherine Porter, herself a singer-songwriter, in her Alliance debut. She portrays Diana’s sobering story in a dramatic voice that seeps with pain and bewilderment. Jordan Craig, who plays the part of Henry (Natalie's boyfriend), Porter, Gaynor and Ricketson are pictured below.

In fact, the depth and strength of the voices of all the characters carries the story, along with surprisingly innovative staging and lighting. Different settings pop up as frequently as Diana’s moods change. Tunes in the songs shift suddenly, with actors appearing from nowhere, all of which keep the audience guessing.

Astounding choreography was provided by Michael Jenkinson who has choreographed and acted in more than 40 productions. The play was directed by Scott Schwartz.

Underlying the central family crisis are the struggles of both the promise and hope of the young and the regret of unfulfilled promises and dashed hopes among the adults. Life is so much more complicated and challenging than any of us could imagine as youth. “Next to Normal” presents these challenges in a sometimes humorous, sometimes horrific, oftentimes exhausting and always gripping, fashion.

Composer Kitt and lyricist Yorkey spent nine years researching and writing the play, consulting with psychiatrists to capture the authenticity such a story deserves. They are to be congratulated on their accomplishment, as “Next to Normal” is now being presented around the world, including Israel, Norway, Australia and South Korea. The themes of life’s precariousness and the mysterious ways of relationships are indeed universal, as humans strive to attain as close to “normal” as possible.

The two-act “Next to Normal” is on stage at the Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff Center in Midtown Atlanta through Nov. 11.

Photos by Greg Mooney 

Jan Jaben-Eilon, a journalist, is a guest blogger for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. She was a founding staff writer of the “Atlanta Business Chronicle.” Since then, she has been the international editor of “Advertising Age” magazine and has written for such publications as “The New York Times,” “International Herald Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Report”, “Washington Journalism Review,” and “Consumer Reports.” Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.

 

 

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