City Theater’s “NEXT TO NORMAL” is Daring Risk, Critical Success!

N2N

Biddeford City Theater’s cast of NEXT TO NORMAL: (l-r) Seth Crockett, Joel Crowley, Maddy Jarvais, Rebecca Rinaldi, Brian McAloon, James Muller. Photo: http://www.audrahatch.com

March 2015

Meet the Goodmans: Dan, the successful, working class Dad; Diana, the ever-efficient housewife who loves her kids; Gabe, the popular, outgoing, 18 year-old son, and Natalie, the smart overachieving daughter. At first, the Goodmans seem like your typical normal family.  That is, until you realize that Mom is living with hallucinations from a worsening bipolar depressive disorder.

Admittedly, the many devastating ways that mental illness can impact a family isn’t your normal subject matter for a musical, but let’s face it, it’s a subject matter that is more prevalent in modern society than we perhaps care to admit.   It’s the powerful message of Next to Normal, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning rock musical being staged by City Theater for two weekends, March 11 – 20.

With book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, Next to Normal features a strong, immensely talented ensemble that bravely and sensitively (and at times with a bit of humor) grapples with an endless unraveling of dark issues—the loss of a child, grieving, drug abuse, suicide, depression, anxieties, psychotherapy, hypnosis, Electroconvulsive Therapy, ethical choices, personal relationships.

Rebecca Rinaldi is riveting and mesmerizing as Diana, leading the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride through dark spaces that are not necessarily lacking in uncomfortable confrontations and familiarity—which renders this production many shades of relevant depending on one’s own unique life exposures to mental illness.

Joel Crowley plays the role of Gabe with precision and perfection, ever-present in his own dimension, slithering between Mommy’s little angel Gabriel and Mommy’s taunting demon of addiction.

Brian McAloon is solid as Dan, the doting family man with his own issues, introducing himself almost like a television sitcom Dad (the show does have oasis moments of humor) but taking on the emotional challenges that lead to his own epiphany in the end.

Maddy Jarvais, a junior at Bonny Eagle High School, makes her debut at City Theater, in a grand and memorable way as Natalie, a feisty and anxious teen on the verge of life, and in the midst of her own crisis she falls in love with Henry, a fun-loving nice guy easily played by James Muller.

Also making his City Theater debut is Seth Crockett who rounds out the ensemble in his dual roles of Dr. Fine and the inside-out personas of Dr. Madden.

The music of Next To Normal is much akin to many 80s-themed rock musicals, i.e. Broadway-pop melodies, intertwined with the token crazy notes, played over basic chord structures filled with repetitive layers of vocal loops—not as commercially viable as the music of Jonathan Larsen’s RENT but in the same vain (in fact, research will reveal many creative ties between n2n and the Larsen phenomenon).

While the audience might not leave the theater tapping and humming a familiar ditty, it is not to underestimate the skill level required of a cast to reach Tony Award-winning levels designed by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt. This cast is unrelenting with their gifts and unmistakably hits the mark of ultimate delight as the musical pieces continue to flow—through intense individual narratives to multi-pronged group collages that emotionally dance with clear, concise, transparent aural traffic.

The singing team of Crockett-Crowley-Jarvais-McAloon-Muller-Rinaldi simply channeled some of their previous experiences (ala RENT, tick tick…BOOM!, Addams Family Musical, Jekyll & Hyde, Chess, Gunmetal Blues, just to name a few) and nailed it! At times, they accomplished the rare secret musical formula: 1+1+1+1+1+1 = 32.

Music Director Denise Calkins is in clear command of a wonderful pit: Ms Calkins on piano, Brian Callaghan on guitar, John Blake on Bass, Bill Manning on Drums/Percussion and the Violin position shared by Madeline McDonald and Evan Cuddy.

As in previous rock musicals, Producer/Director Linda Sturdivant maximizes the square footage of the stage with an interesting, stark and effective, two-story set designed by Karl Carrigan. Set changes were easily handled by stagehands Gaia Ayres, Amy Payne and Abby Randall, orchestrated by State Manager Greg Brackett.

Cudos to the remarkable crew: Daniel Brodhead for Light Design and Shay Ayers, light board operator; to Todd Hutchisen for Sound Design and Matt Eaton, sound board operator; Barbara Kelly for Costumes, Peter Salsbury for Props, Set Dresser Leslie Lampert and Graphic Designer Jessica Thibodeau.

Because Next To Normal may not carry the same name recognition as a proven Broadway musical blockbuster, it represents a daring creative risk—one that has reaped the reward of reaching critical success. “I picked this show because I love the music, I love the message, and because mental illness impacts more families than we know of, and awareness of the problems is part of the coping and healing, so why not bring the darkness to light,” said Director Sturdivant.

Next To Normal runs March 11-20, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2 PM, at Biddeford’s Historic Opera House, 205 Main St., Biddeford. FMI call 207-282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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