Theatre Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Bristol Riverside Theatre

Next to Normal is an American rock musical.  It turned its successful off Broadway run into 11 Tony nominations and 3 wins.  Additionally, it won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.  Dealing with the serious subject of mental illness, it invites us into the suburban home of a family rattled by a mother’s battle with reality.

At Bristol Riverside Theater, veteran director Keith Baker leads us on a sensitive and caring journey through this musical written by Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music).  Once again Bristol demonstrates its willingness to take on theatrical challenges.  Once again it succeeds.

His cast is first rate.  The challenging role of Diana, the mother is brilliantly played by Donna Vivino.  She handles the multi layered role with great nuance and energy.  Danny Vaccaro handles the tough role of the husband Dan, capturing his frustration and love.  Laura Giknis plays the frightened, angry and loving daughter Natalie and Liam Snead deftly handles the pivotal role of Gabe, the son.

Supporting the family is Gary Lumpkin as Henry, Natalie’s romantic interest.  It is through their relationship that we can see what might have been the incipient stages of Diana’s illness.  Philly veteran, Scott Greer is wonderful as both psychiatrists.

When one walks into the theater, they are greeted by Roman Tatarowicz’s striking set.  The lighted giant cube metaphorically becomes the box that Diana sees. It is impressively mated with Ryan O’Gara’s Lighting Design and Brett Pearson’s interesting Sound Design.  Costume Design by Linda B. Stockton, Choreography by Elena Camp, and extraordinary Music Direction by Peter de Mets round out Director Baker’s outstanding team.

Next to Normal runs until November 24th and is well worth the visit.  For information go inline to www.brtstage.org.

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