Next To Normal tackles mental illness

West Moon Theatre is presenting the award-winning rock musical Next To Normal at Studio 16 Theatre until February 17th.

In a unique turn, this production is double cast with two separate casts taking on the challenging musical’s heavy content and numbers.  The double cast allows for two interpretations of the characters and brings a different dynamic to the alternate performances.  The performance I had the privilege of seeing was the opening night for Cast A.  Director Chris Lam has noted that the expanded cast promotes diverse casting and representation, as the younger cast of many recent graduates have the opportunity to work alongside experienced professionals.

Next To Normal looks at a family with a mother with Bipolar Disorder and the fall out that her mental illness has on the rest of her family.  Diana (played in Cast A by Marie West) is consumed by her illness and with the support of husband Dan, (Mark Wolf) tries various treatments to find a ‘normal’ life.  Daughter Natalie (Katrina Teitz) overachieves in hopes of attaining her mother and father’s recognition but Diana’s illness, and her brother Gabe, who seemingly can do no wrong, always seems to take their attention from her.  As Diana and the family battle the ups and down of her illness the audience can’t help but have a sense of anxiety too in the unknown that lays ahead for them.

A musical as well known as Next To Normal and the award-winning performances of the original Broadway casts, puts a lot of pressure on the cast to make their own mark on the characters.  Chris Lam’s direction strips the play to its bare bones, focusing on the characters and exposing their flaws and fears.  In the intimate space of Studio 16, and with the very stripped down staging, the audience is so close to the action it feels like they’re sitting in the kitchen with the family.

The small orchestra is also onstage with the players, at first a worry that the music would overtake the acting but the instrument volume was just right.  While there was some audio technical issues during the second act, one speaker wasn’t working well, making the audio slightly difficult to hear at times, the cast put their hearts into their vocals. Marie West tears into the songs, tackling the Tony Award winning role with all her might but at times her vocals were difficult to distinguish on the polyphonic numbers.  Mark Wolf’s voice stood out with the perfect level to fill, but not overpower, the small room. Wolf and Blake Sartin (playing Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend) harmonize perfectly in their answer to each other on “A Promise’.  Katrina Teitz was a bit pitchy but her characterization of the put-upon Natalie showed her potential for the future.  Having seen Daren Dyhengco, who like Teitz is a grad of Capilano U Theatre program, only in the dramedy The Day Before Christmas, I wasn’t sure how he would carry the heavier message and cornerstone songs of Next To Normal but he too showed great lead actor potential.

West Moon Theatre’s Next To Normal runs at Studio 16, 1555 W 7th Ave, until February 17, 2018.
Tickets are available online at nexttonormalvan.brownpapertickets.com

 

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