Powerful, thought-provoking, engaging and inspirational are only a few words that come close to describing this theatrical masterpiece performed by the Rockville Musical Theatre Group at the Kentlands Arts Barn in Montgomery County. The show, Next To Normal, based on a book by Brian Yorkey is a musical that tells the story of an average ordinary American family living in the United States being gripped by the wretched hands of mental illness and the unique effect it has on every family member.
The cast consists of six characters. Diana ( Marni Ratner Whalen), the delusional mentally ill wife of Dan (Chad Wheeler), the devoted yet disconnected husband and father to Natalie (Rachel Barlaam), a struggling teenager searching for attention and a “stab at living a semi-normal life” under seemingly abnormal living conditions. Conditions leading her to feel isolated and resistant to nurturing a romantic emotionally involved relationship with her free-spirited love interest Henry played by Dylan Echter. Conditions all arising from the death of her older brother Gabe (Rob Milanic) whose haunting memory invades, suffocates, and chisels away at the souls of those lives he has touched in spite of extensive psychiatric care provided by the knowledgeable dependable Dr. Fine and Dr.Madden (Tim Kurtzberg).
Powerful, thought-provoking, engaging and inspirational are only a few words that come close to describing this theatrical masterpiece…
Whalen is exceptional and focused. She delivers scene after scene of heart-felt lines and breathes sincerity into every verse of the songs she sings. She effortlessly captures the essence of “Diana,” a character with whom any wife or mother can relate despite socio-economic class, race, religion, or level of education. Especially entertaining is the scene performed by Diana and her psychiatrist/pharmacist Dr. Fine, in which the two sing and dance to “My Psycopharmacologist and I.” Fine adds a bit of humor and sarcasm to the show as the stereotypical “shrink” searching for just the right cure for Diana’s complicated diagnosis. He has great diction, projection, and sings with a clear crisp voice.
Wheeler is a wonderful actor and singer. He is very convincing in his role of the devoted husband trying to keep the family together sacrificing his own needs and happiness. The song “Who’s Crazy” provides a glimpse into Dan’s thought process and it is at this time he truly reveals himself to the audience and provides substance to his supporting role. Milanic nails a challenging role as “Gabe.” It is obvious this man loves theater and pours every ounce of energy into his performance. He is a talented singer and actor who is an absolute joy to watch. Barlaam and Echter provide stellar performances in their perspective roles delighting the audience with their rendition of “Hey” and “Perfect for you.”
On a technical note and from an artistic point of view, director Rachelle A. Horn, does an impressive job of providing a seamless transition from act to act making the story line flow well. She does an amazing job of deciding when and how the audience becomes aware of “Gabe’s” position/status in the family. The set, simple yet effective, was constructed by master carpenter Neil Andruski and makes good use of stage space and works well with the overall lighting provided by designer Rick Swink. Arielle Bayer, vocal and orchestra director, marries the two perfectly. The orchestra is always in tune and never once overpowers the vocalists. They are an unseen perhaps even a forgotten aspect of a lot of shows but nonetheless remain the backbone of musical theater.
“Next To Normal” is thought-provoking. Is psycho-therapy the answer? Are we destined to follow in our parents foot-steps? How much time is enough time to grieve? Who decides what is normal? Come and see the show and draw your own conclusions.
Advisory: Suitable for audience members 17 and older.
Running Time: Approximately an hour and a half with a 15-minute intermission.
Next to Normal runs through April 26, 2015 at Rockville Musical Theatre, Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20878-5727. For tickets and information call 301-258-6394 or click here.