There’s nothing a soprano and her audience love better than a mad scene, as the composers of operas have long exploited. Now the creators of the modern musical are finding substantial rewards in this territory.
In a 21st century continuation of this venerable tradition, suburban housewife Diana Goodman struggles through her own appointments with screamsville with the help of a variety of pharmaceuticals. And the character is sure to be on the top ten list of every singing actress looking for a "rip 'em apart" role for years to come.
In a new production from Balagan Theatre, the Northwest’s own Next To Normal returns to the Seattle stage.*
This pocket-sized rock musical with a six person cast and similarly small hardworking band drags the audience by the sodden handkerchief through one disaster after another as Diana and family pursue a life that may not be normal, but almost reaches that goal (yes, the title really means something by Act II).
Beth DeVries portrays the madwoman, now more correctly and kindly called a bipolar manic depressive with schizophrenic tendencies towards hallucinations. Nicely balancing bland everyday ordinariness (you wouldn’t notice her standing in line at the check-out of the supermarket) with screaming heebie-jeebies, DeVries makes Diana a sympathetic but frustrating soul.
In the far more difficult role, as the caretaker/husband of the continually cracking Diana, Auston James turns Dan Goodman into a man suffering from his own version of PSTD but unable to admit it.
Half the audience last Sunday loved Dan and the other half were furious with him for leaving the vulnerable Diana alone at a critical moment. Which is pretty much how opera audiences feel about how Lucia's family treats her or how Elivira gets the shaft from her nearest and dearest in I Puritani.
Filling out the Next to Normal cast were Keaton Whittaker, Kody Bringman, Ryan Hotes, and Ryan McCabe as the Goodman children, potential boyfriend for Diana's neglected daughter (Hotes), and doctors to Diana (McCabe in two separate roles most unfairly plagued by the same malfunctioning microphone on Sunday). All are able appealing actors sure to be moving onto bigger productions around town soon.
Directed by Brandon Ivie, founder of Contemporary Classics and New Voices concert series, the musical moves at a rapid clip on the simple set that served it well. Without much pause for introspection, it definitely kept the audience engaged to the bittersweet end -- and then rocketing to their feet for a standing ovation. A number of them argued throughout the show on which treatments would have better served poor Diana (rarely do you hear lithium, Zoloft, and assorted other drugs discussed so earnestly when standing in line at the bar during intermission).
Next To Normal continues through March 2 at the Erickson Theatre on Capitol Hill. For information on the show, check Balagan’s website.
*Next To Normal by Brian Yorkey (book/lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music) began as a workshop production at Village Theatre. It went on to win both a Pulitzer and three Tony Awards after it moved to Broadway.