Composer Tom Kitt and lyricist/librettist Brian Yorkey’s acclaimed, marvelously melodic 2009 pop/rock musical “Next to Normal” receives a solid, touching and vocally strong local premiere at the Victoria Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company in conjunction with the Victoria Theatre Association.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Tony Award for Best Original Score, “Normal,” firmly and briskly staged by choreographer and co-music director Scott Stoney, paints a humorous, heartbreaking portrait of depression, dysfunction and mental illness within a modern suburban family torn apart by severe loss, disillusionment and resentment. Borrowing a clever past-meets-present conceptual device akin to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s 1971 musical “Follies,” “Normal” potently addresses the emotional disarray that occurs when tragic memories and unsettled anguish overtake the mind. Everyone comes to terms with bereavement in their own way, but sometimes sorrow has no cure. Although this musical intriguingly delves into numerous facets of medical treatments with comic and catastrophic results, it also suggests starting over is the best solution of all no matter how hard it is on the loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces.
Trisha Rapier, engaging and wide-eyed with a natural penchant for comedy, is wonderfully powerful and believably
complex as Diana Goodman, the fragile mom whose bipolar disorder pulverizes her family’s foundation. The grueling range of angst-ridden, unstable emotions Rapier conveys in this vocally challenging, predominately sung-through piece grows particularly impressive in Act 2 when Diana finally begins to make sense of the past in the aftermath of shock therapy. She also sings her musical numbers with great accuracy and passion, particularly providing first-rate renditions of the folk-tinged “I Miss the Mountains,” enraged “You Don’t Know” and amusingly manic “Didn’t I See This Movie?” Tenor Jamie Cordes, very compatible with Rapier, is more suited to opera and bygone musical theater than contemporary pop/rock musical theater but offers a commendable, appropriately straight-laced portrayal of Dan, Diana’s supportive yet emotionally wounded husband. Emily Price, endearing and vulnerable, fits the bill as Natalie, Diana and Dan’s hopelessly frustrated, relatively forgotten teen daughter wary of falling in love with the nerdy Henry, appealingly portrayed by Jon Hacker. Eric Michael Krop, obtaining quite a workout repeatedly ascending and descending David A. Centers’ efficient three-story set, thrillingly drives the pulsating rock vibe within the score with refreshing new twists, especially in “I’m Alive,” as the ominous and briefly dashing Gabe. J.J. Tiemeyer completes the cast with sensitivity and bravado in his dual roles as Doctor Madden and Doctor Fine.
Additionally, co-music director Jay Brunner leads an outstanding, well balanced orchestra. John Rensel’s evocative lighting design and Lowell A. Mathwich’s attractive costumes are added benefits. Brian Retterer’s sound design became problematic on opening night but was not a total hindrance.
It will always be difficult for any professional production of “Next to Normal” to equal or surpass the off-Broadway and Broadway productions conceived for and starring West Carrollton High School alumna and Tony Award winner Alice Ripley. Ripley’s definitively visceral and unhinged portrayal of Diana off-Broadway still lingers with me to this day. Even so, the Human Race and Victoria have impressively joined forces to produce a high quality, emotionally fulfilling presentation worthy of your patronage.
“Next to Normal” continues through May 19 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are Tuesday-Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $40-$86. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com