Review: ‘Next to Normal’ at The Keegan Theatre

‘Next to Normal’ Confronts Depression, and Anxiety

Depression hurts. It deadens and dulls the edge of life and can even kill. With a Tony Award-winning score composed by Tom Kitt with lyrics and book by Brian Yorkey, Next to Normal, is a study of what happens when a family matriarch can’t cope with the demons in her past. Thanks to Musical Director Jake Null, Choreographer Kurt Boehm, and Directors Mark A. Rhea and Colin Smith, Next to Normal is musical theater at its finest—a feast for the ears and a delight to the eyes.

Kari Ginsburg and Chad Wheeler. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Kari Ginsburg and Chad Wheeler. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The rock musical, which won three Tony Awards in 2009, chronicles the Goodman family, Diana, Dan, Gabe, and Natalie, who live in “an unidentified suburban community.” Played with exquisite talent by Kari Ginsburg, Diana seems to be a normal, well-adjusted housewife as she helps her family prepare for their day, and they sing “Just Another Day.”

There’s endearing mother and son interaction between Diana and Gabe (the magnificent David Landstrom) throughout the early scenes, which builds up to a devastating reveal later in the musical.

After Dan finds his wife Diana, making sandwiches on the kitchen floor, he sends her to see a therapist, Doctor Fine. Leading to the spirited number by the three of them “Who’s Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I.

Chad Wheeler’s Dan was played with endearing empathy and Scott Ward Abernethy’s Doctor Fine was at turns comical, rock-star-ish, and over-the-top, with a used-car salesman vibe thrown in.

We then see Diana’s teenaged daughter Natalie and Henry come together in youthful love in the number “Perfect for You.” Caroline Dubberly displayed astounding emotional range and vocal power as Natalie; and Christian Montgomery was strong as Henry.

Caroline Dubberly and Christian Montgomery. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Caroline Dubberly and Christian Montgomery. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Later Ginsburg’s powerful “I Miss the Mountains” moves the story along, as we see her yearning for normality amidst her inner-turmoil.

As the Goodman’s deal with Diana’s illness, we hear the powerful “Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling” sung by Doctor Madden (Abernethy), Diana, Dan, Natalie, Gabe and Henry. We see a flash of hope for the Goodmans in “A Light in the Dark” by Dan and Diana.

Diana is then hospitalized. As Diana recovers from the brutal “treatment” of electric shock therapy, she finds it affects her memory, leading to her number, “Song of Forgetting” with Dan and Natalie. Landstrom’s rendition of “Aftershocks” floated on an impressive vocal range. As Diana struggles to regain lost memories by looking at old family pictures and heirlooms, she and Dan sing the emotional “How Could I Ever Forget?, which combined impressive vocals with meaningful acting from Ginsburg and Wheeler.

As the musical progresses, Diana realizes that “some ghosts are never gone” and she must “find some way to survive” her anguish. Diana’s daughter Natalie starts to show self-destructive tendencies as well—drinking and acting out angrily. We see a juxtaposition between the older Diana\Dan couple and the teenaged Natalie\Henry couple in “Why Stay?/A Promise.”

It’s Henry who wonders “…will your mom be OK?”, leading to his and Natalie’s excellent “Hey #3/Perfect for You (Reprise).” Diana makes a decision that leaves Dan devastated, but there is a sense of hope in an otherwise dark storyline in the triumphant closing number, “Light” with the entire astounding cast filling the theatre with their beautiful vocals.

Scott Ward Abernethy. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Scott Ward Abernethy. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The eye-catching set was part-Broadway dazzle, part-industrial loft, (with three sets of stairs) thanks to Scenic Designer Matthew Keenan. I loved Allan Sean Weeks’ lighting design, which highlighted the emotional tenor of several scenes. Null, who also served as Conductor, helped the often hard-edged rock music tell the story.

The standing ovation Next to Normal received, validated an evening of superb quality storytelling that foretells a magnificent run.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Next to Normal plays through July 10, 2016 at The Keegan Theatre, -1742 Church Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 265-3767, or purchase them online.

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