‘Next to Normal’ is no normal musical

To everyone that slept through too many of Prof. Hayden’s 9 a.m. Abnormal Psychology classes, Next to Normal is here to refresh your memory. Zach Rufa ’14 has taken on the daunting task of directing this Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about a woman suffering from bipolar disorder. This show examines the toll mental illness can take on a family. Rufa does a nice job of handling such challenging material with support from his talented cast and crew.

A small cast of characters keeps the show moving with their powerful vocal talent. Emily Kassie ’14, who plays the bipolar mother, captures the complexity and conflict of someone who can’t comprehend reality. Although Kassie is half her character’s age, her presence and commitment to every moment combats this and is really the backbone of the show. Sarah Gage ‘15 plays the family’s daughter and stuns with her emotional variability and belting abilities. Similarly, Alex Ostroff ’14, Gavin Kramar ’15, and Elias Spector-Zabuksy ’15 all hold their own against these two talented women who control the world of Next to Normal.

Will Peterson ’14 stands out as the patriarch of the family. He expertly acts his character’s stability and perseverance. His vocal talents only further exemplify the emotion of every scene he is in. Peterson’s subtle yet purposeful performance allows later moments in the show to be truly heartbreaking. I may or may not have cried at one point; I guess the world will never know.

The show’s musicians are placed on the stage, only further emphasizing the show’s rock music style. Musical director Ben Kutner ’14 leads the pit through a challenging score. Similarly, lighting designer Ben Chesler ’15 takes the audience through the intricacy of mental illness, contrasting sanity and insanity. Skylar Fox’s ’15 two-level set along with Rufa’s direction allows the audience to contrast and compare the characters. This is a great choice, and assists the audience in realizing the patterns within families suffering from a history of mental illness. The design team really comes together to transform the Downspace into this troubled families’ world.

The show itself has a lot of surprises, twists, and turns that I don’t want to give away. Characters may not be who they seem to be and not all problems might have a solution. Plus, Ostroff has some sexy rock star moves. Next to Normal opens tonight and runs all weekend. It’s a great study break. With shows Friday through Sunday at 8pm and an additional 2pm matinée on Sunday, you better grab your Valium and head over to the PW Downspace. Check out the Facebook event for more details.

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