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Next To Normal presents heavy theme and strong vocals

Photo: nexttonormal.com/media

It’s in the eyes. It’s the one body part that can reflect fear, happiness and anger all within a split second. They also see into the soul of the home that houses a family that is anything but “Next to Normal.”

“Next to Normal” presented the question of what really is the mainstream to a crowded opening night at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines. Behind suburban front doors there are people, emotions and problems.

Popularity of “Next to Normal” could lie in the many impactful moments of the plot. Anyone who has seen his father cry or been in contact with drug use, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or counseling can form an intrinsic bond with the show. Even those who have had a fight with a significant other or a mother can relate to the show. “Next to Normal” highlights how we need one another to make it through the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

The small but strong cast fit well and played to the height of their roles. Diana, the main character mother played by the 2009 Tony Award-winning Alice Ripley, turns the stage into a roller coaster of emotions. She plays the stereotypical modern housewife and then hurtles the plot into discomfort.

Ripley’s voice was a bit off opening night. It wasn’t wrong or cringe-worthy, just different. The audience had to trust it was good as she is an award winner, yet it faltered in comparison to her co-stars.

Daughter of the family, Natalie, played by Emma Hunton, hits notes with anyone who has ever played second-string to another “perfect” sibling. She grows into her character through her voice, actions and appearance as she experiments with drugs.

Natalie’s unlikely love interest Henry, played by Preston Sadlier, bounds onto the stage with the carelessness of the stoner he portrays and the sensitivity of a protagonist.

Sadlier expressed an affinity for getting to present such hard-hitting issues on stage.

“Artistically, it’s rare to feel like you are aligning yourself with something so important and eye-opening to people,” Sadlier said. “I liked something I read the other day that Brian Yorkey pointed out via David Foster Wallace, something like ‘the point of fiction is to help people feel less alone.’”

Because, with mental illnesses, the normalcy of “Just Another Day,” as sung in the opener, becomes a challenge. Some of the most powerful vocals were sung by Curt Hansen, playing the role of an omniscient deceased son.

With the over-arching themes so heavy on mental illness, the Civic Center presented the show in conjunction with the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Greater Des Moines.

“I don’t think ‘Next To Normal’ professes to be the medical answer to everyone’s questions but rather, a beautiful piece of fiction that really helps people feel less alone,” Sadlier said.

“Next to Normal” was a sight to see with the stage set-up. Pure symmetry of the three-story scaffoldings provided a sharp contrast to the confusion of the characters. As they run up and down the stairs, illuminated by colored lights, the structures of life are flashing, falling and yet, still metaphorically standing at the end of the scene. Ripley is also to be admired for her pure talent at running up and down levels in heels.

The pure chords of the rock musical ring clearly through the distinct style of Michael Greif, who also directed the 1996 hit “Rent.” Listeners can tell in the refreshing dialogue and modern lyrics that, it’s modern rock and applicable to the times. It’s uncomfortable, crass, snarky and a bit profane. Like one of the show’s most upbeat, thematic songs replaying through the mind, you will feel just a bit more alive, perhaps even more normal.

Missed “Normal”? Check out the upcoming Willis Broadway Series’ shows at the DSM Civic Center.

“Rock of Ages” April 19 ? 24
“Young Frankenstein” May 3 ? 8
“Chicago The Musical” June 2 ? 5


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1 Comment

  1. JIM March 25, 2011

    We saw it Thursday 24th at PPACRI and sorry to say Ms. Ripley’s voice left a lot to be desired deteriorating as the night went on, very off key to the point of “fingernails on a chalk board” feelings. A great shame as the acting was excellent, the other cast members and musicians were excellent. Ms.Ripley’s acting was also great one could certainly feel her pain

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