Next to Normal tells the story of what at first appears to be a "normal" American family, until the cracks begin to show. Diana and her husband Dan married young and started a family. They suffered a great tragedy that triggered Diana's bipolar disorder, which she's been dealing with for years. Everyone in the family suffers in their own way. Dan has to be the strong one as Diana falls apart, and therefore never gets the chance to deal with his own feelings about what happened. Their children, Gabe and Natalie, live in the shadow of the tragedy and are trying to deal with it on top of the normal problems that come with adolescence. Natalie's afraid that she'll follow in her mother's footsteps, and Diana's unable to be the mother that she wants to be. Diana hits rock bottom and undergoes ECT, aka shock therapy. It erases her memories, both the good and the bad, and she struggles to get her life and family back. Eventually they learn that there is no such thing as a "normal" family; all families look different and are dealing with their own unique issues, both big and small. The Goodmans struggle to find a way to get through theirs, and show us just what is possible with love.*
|Diana and Dan with their son Gabe|
(Erin Capello, Matt Riehle, and Kyle Weiler, photo by Dan Norman)
|Gabe with Natalie and Henry (Kyle Weiler, |
Audrey Mojica, and Sayer Keeley, photo by Dan Norman)
|photo by Dan Norman|
seamlessly together. The frame of a house is outlined in neon, which changes color with the emotion of the piece, specific sections lit up or darkened depending on where the action is happening. Similar to the original Broadway design, there are multiple staircases and ladders leading to the second story of the house. But there are no walls, it's fully open to the back and side walls of the theater, giving us a great view of the awesome five-piece band seated just behind the house, led by Artistic Director Jason Hansen on piano. This Tony-winning Kitt and Yorkey score is not easy, with intricate rhythms and overlapping parts, but this cast and band make it sound effortless. Completing the design are the costumes (design by Mathew J. LeFebvre), with the cast dressed in an endless parade of modern casual chic clothing.
I can't begin to say how much Peter Rothstein's work in the music-theater world has meant to me in the last 17 years, since I saw my first Theatre Latte Da production in 2006, Floyd Collins at the Loring Playhouse, four years before I started blogging. He's been my favorite ever since, with interesting choices of shows, and always thoughtful and clear vision. His departure (he will soon be taking over the Producing Artistic Director role at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida) is a huge loss to the local theater community. But he's left a great legacy in Theater Latte Da, which he co-founded with Denise Prosek 25 years ago, and which will no doubt continue to move the genre of musical theater forward, expanding what it can and should do. And I hear Florida is nice in the wintertime.
See Peter's last show, the brilliant Next to Normal, at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis now through July 16.