“Risky” and “brave” were terms used to describe the regional premiere of “Next to Normal” at the Drury Lane Theater in Oakbrook Terrace prior to opening. Now, after the Aug. 22 opening night performance of this dramatic musical, the words “brilliant” and “compelling” come to mind.
With a story and score from Brian Yorky and Tom Kitt, Drury Lane Artistic Director William Osetek brings a gripping, beautifully told story of a “normal” American family to the Drury Lane stage.
Six strong actors and an orchestra led by Ben Johnson tell the story of a wife and mother sinking ever deeper into mental illness. “Next to Normal” is one of only eight musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show also won three 2009 Tony Awards including Best Original Score and Best Orchestration.
Susie McMonagle is purely magnificent as Diana and Rod Thomas is equally perfect as her supportive and loving husband Dan.
McMonagle’s strong and beautiful voice takes the audience through the life of a seemingly happy woman who becomes increasingly more ill.
As the story moves along, we learn of some deeply disturbing family history that forever changes this “normal” family.
Josh Tolle as son Gabe and Callie Johnson as teenage daughter Natalie give stunning performances. Skyler Adams, as Natalie’s boyfriend Henry, delivers a great portrayal of a teenager trying to do his best to rescue his one true love from the tortures that reside in her home.
Diana seeks the help of Dr. Fine, a “psychopharmacologist” played with skill and humor (yes, there are some very funny moments in this heartbreaking tale) by Colte Julian. Going through the list of a rainbow of pills he has prescribed, and giving unbelievably complicated instructions to Diana on when to take them and which ones can be taken with others and which can’t, Julian gives a performance that is at once deeply saddening and very funny.
Julian is also aptly cast as a subsequent psychiatrist, Dr. Madden, who prescribes progressively severe treatments for Diana.
What comes across so beautifully in this production is that this is a family that deeply loves one another, even through the most impossible of times.
Johnson’s orchestra of keyboard, violin, guitars, bass and drums shines as brightly as it ever has as the rich score moves through the roller coaster of emotions each person experiences alone and as a family.
The typical suburban American home is the setting for the show. Scenic Designer Scott Davis has created the perfectly idyllic set that houses all the chaos these people experience.
This show is highly recommended for its honest and compelling story and brilliant performances by everyone on stage.
“Next to Normal” runs through Oct. 6 at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets and information contact the box office at 630-530-0111 or visit the Drury Lane Theatre website.