Friday, November 15, 2013

Next To Normal

I saw the show two years ago when Midvale Main Street Theatre did it. I know the show pretty well.

Last night, I went to opening night with my dad.

Watching a show about a family that loses a child with your father who lost his child is pretty gut wrenching. And cathartic.

At intermission, we gabbed with folks and pointed out the characters that matched best with our own experiences. I'm not 16, but I was definitely a Natalie. And my dad was Diana--despite the fact that my mom's name is Diane. But he was the one always seeking for new drugs, new religious paths, new answers to his pain.

It's not about anything earth shattering like AIDS or puppet sex. It's about next to normal people trying to figure out why despite their many many blessings--they just can't find happiness. It's a completely first world kind of play.

It's a wasp kinda play really. The problems stem from the very waspish sentiment that ignoring our problems will make them go away. And you wouldn't think that there would be much material there honestly. And yet, there it is. Singing in gorgeous tight chords and haunting melodies two feet away from you...because we were on the front row.

I think most of us can handle earth shattering. We pull out the big guns and we conquer. But the little things like photos, a straying memory, and a music box... things we ought to be over... but we're never really. These are the things that undo us. Because it isn't about the big guns, the waving flags, a revolution, or even dancing on tables at restaurants.

The song "I Miss The Mountains" speaks volumes to me. Officially, 4 of us in my family have been diagnosed bipolar. Wanna know how many of us are still on that horrible regime of medicines they put bipolars on? 0. Well, one of us is dead now, so that doesn't count. And I don't feel bipolar, despite the diagnosis. I have too much respect for friends who are really suffering to own that diagnosis. They talk about how doctors put these big names on an assembly of symptoms. But the medicines just seem to make things worse. And then some work. For a bit. And you keep working. And you think that someone should write a musical about this. And so they do.

I cried three or four times. And during those times it was when the actor was visibly trying to be happy. The struggle to be happy is more heartbreaking than sadness. No one tries to be sad. So in those few moments where I would see the actors struggling to smile--the emotion would well up. My dad on the other hand just sat there with tears streaming down his face for much of the show.

The cast is amazing. Sara McDonald is this powerhouse dynamo personality and her portrayal of Diana helps me to love her, to understand her, and to feel with her. Dustin Bolt has a grounding affect on the rest of the cast. His voice is soothing and powerful. But last night, I saw this quiver of vulnerability seep from him in contrast to Diana's confidence. The two actors maintained a gorgeous dance of strength and vulnerability with one another. Aaron Ford's Gabe was focused and complicated. I cried for him. Despite sinister choices, I felt they only highlighted his real need. My only criticism is that his feet never seemed to stay all the way on the ground. He was always gearing up for something--and it distracted me from the amazing work he was doing. (Also his shoes were awesome and my eyes went there every time.) Cassidy Ross is Natalie. Knowing her personally--she is that perfect combination of rebellious and over achieving. I enjoyed every scene she was in--watching her character arch through powerful to vulnerable, from stupid to wise. Ryan Fallis was technically fantastic--and he looked super handsome. But I never really bought the rock star thing from him. It's such a hard transition to make--but I wanted MORE. I wanted him to feel the rock star in his pelvis. So, go further Ryan! But his love and concern for Diana and for Dan was touching. I trusted him. I trusted in him. Brock Dalgleish's Henry brought much needed light and humor to the show. And it doesn't hurt that he's kind of pretty. I loved the chemistry he had with Natalie.

I talked about it before--but the harmonies were so tight.. And the balance of their voices was perfect. It's a terrific feat when a musical director can pull off such gorgeous chords from a small cast. Big kudos to Jason Campbell for that feat.  Ben Mayfield's orchestrations were gorgeous as always. And a big shout out to Kristina Rene Stone for her work as Stage Manager.

The lighting (Jennifer Hairr) was amazing. The set design (Sean McLaughlin) was inspired. You just have to see it. Technically, my biggest complaint was that there was a good 5 minute stretch during the second act where I couldn't hear the dialogue over the music. I'm sure it will be resolved by tonight. My dad thought it was on purpose to demonstrate chaos--but I knew there was actual dialogue.

The costumes were gorgeous. The photos I'm posting are from rehearsal--so no one's actually in their costumes in these pics. You'll have to take my word for it. Jan Harris's costumes are incredible.

The colors, the lights, the action, the music--everything came together so beautifully. Sometimes I think directing is one of those thankless jobs where you "just" balance a thousand different elements. Tammy Ross's directing genius is in her ability to trust her collaborators--including the actors--and steer a ship of related factors towards a cohesive ocean of storytelling. To her credit, she doesn't try to be a one woman show, micromanaging everyone and everything. But with her talents for collaboration, she manages to produce and direct while her theatre grows with every show. It's only been 5 years since she bought the theatre and they were doing children's shows. Now the theatre toggles back and forth between family friendly children's theatre and intriguing musicals that rival any other company in the valley.

The show runs just two weekends. Nov 14-Nov 23--Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7pm with a Sunday show on Nov 17th at 6pm.

Get your tickets to Next to Normal by visiting or by calling the box office after 5pm on the days of the show 801-566-0596.

(photo credits Ryan Fallis... which is why he isn't in any of the photos.)


Joseph L. Puente said...

Damn, you're a great writer, Eve. "Tammy Ross's directing genius is in her ability to trust her collaborators... and steer a ship of related factors towards a cohesive ocean of storytelling." Brilliant!

Eve said...

Well, coming from another great writer--thank you!