• Theater Review: Searching for ‘Next to Normal’
    By Jim Lowe
     | July 13,2013
    Photo by Tim Fort

    Mother and daughter Diana (Heidi Blickenstaff) and Natalie (Margo Seibert) vie for attention in the Weston Playhouse musical “Next to Normal.”

    WESTON — “Powerful” is not often used to describe a Broadway musical, nor is “riveting,” but both apply to the Weston Playhouse production of “Next to Normal,” one of the toughest but most emotionally rewarding musicals to be presented in Vermont in a long time.

    “Next to Normal” confronts head-on a family facing the bipolar disorder of the mother — it’s serious but it’s plenty entertaining and, finally, it’s reassuring.

    With music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the musical opened off Broadway in 2008, going on to Broadway the next year.

    Not only did it win the Pulitzer, it won three Tony Awards, including Best Score. In fact, it is one of the few contemporary musicals to successfully convey real tenderness with any depth.

    Diana, a seemingly typical middle-class woman, is being treated for bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, and it seems to be getting worse. She is having more and more difficulty relating to her loving husband Dan, son Gabe and daughter Natalie, and it’s throwing the family into turmoil.

    But, consistent with that condition is denial. Diana is not only in denial of her illness, but much more. And, for that matter, so is her family. As in all families, a problem for one is a problem for all.

    It takes a major meltdown to set a new — and revealing — direction. It’s a gritty tale, but the music gives it a human tenderness that is infectious. The music is light rock, illustrating the deep emotions successfully — with unusual moments of intimacy. Finally, they all come together for a realistic message of hope.

    At Thursday’s preview performance, the Weston production proved a deeply moving and rewarding experience. Directed and choreographed by Michael Berresse, with musical direction by Ryan Fielding Garrett, it proved uplifting as well as convincing.

    Heidi Blickenstaff delivered a nuanced and sympathetic performance as Diana, reflecting the character’s turmoil, both internal and external. Aaron Ramey was terribly real — and exasperated — as her husband, Dan, eventually revealing issues of his own.

    Margo Seibert was deeply sympathetic as Natalie, the daughter left behind by the mother’s illness. Her fears were balanced by a fully dimensional performance by Etai BenShlomo as her seemingly superficial boyfriend, Henry.

    Dan DeLuca gave an appropriately witty performance as Gabe, Diana and Dan’s elusive son. David Ayres was Dr. Fine, Diana’s sympathetic psychiatrist.

    All were able singers, and the excellent pit band was led by Garrett.

    The novel ever-changing set was by Timothy R. Mackabee, while appropriately awkward costumes were by Jennifer Caprio, all dramatically lit by Tyler Micoleau.

    Weston’s “Next to Normal” proved a rich and rewarding experience about a difficult subject, and entertaining to boot.

    Weston Playhouse

    Weston Playhouse Theatre Company Presents “Next to Normal,” the Tom Kitt-Brian Yorkey musical, July 11-27 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St. in Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees Wednesday and Saturday, 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets start at $25; call 802-824-5288, or go online to www.westonplayhouse.org.

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