As soon as I saw Next to Normal at The Kennedy Center in 2010, I knew I wanted to direct it. The show was new and novel both in impact and in approach. Billed as a rock musical, the twists and turns kept me on a roller coaster ride of emotions. As a member of the audience, I just held on and enjoyed the ride.
Fast forward to April 2015, when I am lucky enough to be directing the show for Rockville Musical Theatre (RMT) at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn (April 10-26). The 99 seat theatre adds another unique element of intimacy and brings the audience closer into the action.
The Next to Normal synopsis does not build excitement or the initial need to run out and buy tickets. But once you see it, you will be hooked. You won’t be able help it. It is a unique and special blend of a modern story, truly realized characters, and a haunting and beautiful music score.
Next to Normal is revolutionary, moving, sad and inspirational. Six talented and dedicated actors spent weeks both in rehearsal and on their own time delving into the characters they play, the relationships and the perfection of the music. They are an incredible team not to be missed. Each brings vast experience and raw pieces of themselves in every moment.
On paper, the show is the story of a family in constant crisis. They are a dysfunctional and very real group of people who need each other to survive, but lean on each other too much to break the cycle of fear and resentment.
Diana Goodman (Marni Ratner Whelan) is a suburban housewife, who struggles through life as she battles mental demons in the form of bipolar disorder coupled with hallucinations that stem from personal trauma. Her husband Dan (Chad Wheeler), an architect, fights to keep her mind and his family stable but that fight becomes increasingly problematic. Her Doctor (Tim Kurtzberg) tries medication and then extreme treatment to rid her of her demons. Throughout her struggles, Diana’s relationship with her daughter Natalie (Rachel Barlaam) becomes strained because Natalie feels invisible in the eyes of her mother, who prefers the superhero-like image she has created for her son (Rob Milanich).Natalie’s understanding and supportive boyfriend Henry (Dylan Echter) tries to help, but his attempts push Natalie farther into her mother’s footsteps.
Many of us have experienced the challenges of a family member’s serious health issues — physical, emotional or mental. It takes a toll on the patient and the entire family of caregivers, and the family structure gets completely reconfigured around the person in distress.
Next to Normal mirrors the complexity of real life. It will take you to places you have not been to during a musical performance. It will be worth the ride.
Next to Normal plays from April 10-26, 2015 at Rockville Musical Theatre performing at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.