By Jan Jaben-Eilon
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.
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.
choreography was provided by Michael Jenkinson who has choreographed and acted
in more than 40 productions. The play was directed by Scott Schwartz.
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.
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
New York Times,” “International Herald Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Report”,
“Washington Journalism Review,” and “Consumer Reports.” Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and