‘NEXT TO NORMAL’ IS A PAINFUL BUT POISED FAMILY PORTRAIT OF LOVE AND HOPE
THE GOODMAN FAMILY STRUGGLES TO BE NORMAL IN THIS TONY WINNING MUSICAL
The Jeffrey family at Broadway By the Bay bring the Goodman family to the historic Fox Theatre in Redwood City in the powerful musical NEXT TO NORMAL through August 27th. Director Jasen Jeffrey and his wife Artistic Musical Director present a true family drama with music. NEXT TO NORMAL marks the first time this husband and wife team have worked together in this capacity. Alicia says “Jasen and I have collaborated many times as producer/director, but never creatively like this.- to do it on this show is a thrill.”
Director Jasen continues, “We’re a family, doing an intensely emotional show about the strength of family. We’re so in-sync, this feels easy and completely, well, normal.” Alicia continues “NEXT TO NORMAL will be a new experience for our audiences. It brings into the light subject matter that in many circles is taboo. Having an opportunity to open the conversation about mental illness and its impact on families is a responsibility we don’t take lightly. This production is a beautiful example of how the medium of musical theatre can be transformative, therapeutic and educational. I’m very proud to have it in our season.”
NEXT TO NORMAL, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, is a unique musical which addresses loss, death, suicide, drug usage, and the ethics of modern psychiatry. It won three 2009 Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Pulitzer Board credited the show with “expanding the scope of subject matter for musicals.”
The Jeffrey creative team brought together a talented stunning cast of pros to stage this intimate family tale in their large Fox Theatre Venue. Yet with Kelly James Tighe’s lavish set the six member cast easily sets the tone for a family drama that is brought right to your seat.
Meet the Goodmans an average American family doing their best to live the American dream. Mrs Goodman, Diana, and Dan Goodman, long time married spouses who would, on the surface at least, appear to be heading “the perfect loving family.” But, as Diana puts it, her husband is “boring”, her son “a little shit,” and her daughter “though a genius is a freak,” but what household is perfect.
Diana, the American housewife, who has been diagnosed as having a form of bipolar disorder, coupled with what might be schizophrenia. McGinty is compelling in her first song “Who’s Crazy” and “I Miss The Mountains”. Zoloft, Paxil, Xanax, Ambien, Prozac…” are just some of the prescription meds prescribed by Diana’s shrink Dr. Fine (Brendan Quirk), they have left her with headaches, blurry vision, and distant from her family. She says “absolutely no desire for sex, although whether that’s the medicine or the marriage is anybody’s guess.”
“NEXT TO NORMAL” is one of the best of a new generation of musicals that address difficult issues and ask tough questions. The terrific cast also includes the marvelous Mackenzie Cala as the daughter Natalie Goodman, the angst teen ager.
The exceptional Sean Okuniewicz plays their son Gabe who leads the family in the opening rousing number “Just Another Day” and “I Am The One”. While Mr Goodman does his best to hold his house together, seventeen-year-old golden boy, Gabe, brags that soon “the world will feel my power and obey.” His sister Natalie Goodman, the aspiring pianist, played by the lively Mackenzie Calae, is a year Gabe’s junior. She has only her music to maintain her stability.
Dan Goodman is played by BBB vet, Hudelson, who is the standout of this cast proving his voice in his solo “He’s Not Here”. Together the family struggles to keep their home on some sort of “normal” path. Maybe not normal, but “next to normal.” The singing voices are terrific, the acting is high quality, and the pacing is excellent; the show’s subtext shines clearly.
Cala has a strong presence throughout, whether in duet with her smitten stoner boyfriend, Henry, played by the venerable Joey Pisacane, who sings such gems as the witty “Perfect For You” or matched up with Cala in the unsettling moment of “Maybe (Next to Normal).” Cala creates a Natalie who is a confused, angry teenager, desperate for love and acceptance. Her voice is strong and her overall song interpretation is fully realized.
Wearing two hats for this story, the provocative Brendan Quirk rounded out the cast playing two doctors, a clever shrink “Rock Star” Dr. Madden, and a concerned therapist Dr. Fine. He is excelled with the others in the ensemble number “Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling,” where they brought their voices in and out of harmony to striking effect.
McGinty in the lead role is thoroughly convincing as a middle-class wife and mother who feels only half alive. She says “the year of too much lithium”. Her singing showed great dynamic range as required by Yorkey’s songs that took her from intimate reflection to soaring declarations. McGinty sings “I Miss the Mountains” as her character is dealt an achingly mix of pharmacological cocktails her doctor prescribes. Her singing voice is strong, her lyric interpretations excellent and she stops the show in “So Anyway”.
Okuniewicz ambiguous character Gabe menaces his mom, offering her extreme solutions. He is polished with his moving songs and several attention-grabbing vocals, as in the show stopping “I’m Alive” and the deep “There’s a World.” Okuniewicz’ vibrant and stunning presence as the son, especially in “Aftershocks” is commanding on Tighe’s two level set that extends to the upper hights of the Fox stage with back lit shelves. His design reveals many of the family's secrets with Eric Daniel Johnson’s props effectively positioned on the grand set. Johnson's props are a show in themselves - they are a huge subtext for this musical. As the audience comes into the Fox - they can spend hours studying the items he created for the two towers of back lit bookshelves - wonderful work. Michael Oesch’s dramatic lighting design includes the mood color changes worked into the tower of shelves. Oesch's lighting at times becomes one the characters in this production, it is very compelling, at times dark and of course hitting the rock opera electric feeling.
Alicea Jeffrey’s music direction is vibrant and she keeps the company strong singing voices pitch perfect with her five member, stunning orchestra. The moving song “Catch Me I am Falling” includes the entire six member cast and under vocal consultant Sean Kana’s the sound is full throttle. Costume designer Leandra Watson has the company in eye catching colors and earth tones, with Henry’s millennial look hipster and synthetic. Diana is dressed in light white grey tones, next to her husband's dapper look. Sound designer Jon Hayward easily keeps the company mixed well with the Tom Kitt’s sometimes rock and pop score.
Hudelson is impressive as the emotionally stifled, yet well meaning father, he has a fine voice and sings with a father's love and passion for this family. He creates dialogue out of lyrics, especially in his second act duet “I am the One” with Okuniewicz. Hudelson poignantly shows the desperation of a man trying to hold his family together. His touching rendition of “Better Than Before” effectively mixes hopes and fears. Jasen Jeffrey’s direction is visually interesting and helped propel story exposition and mood but was a bit repetitive in the convulsive therapy segment. The Jeffreys’ creative team has the family populate the multilevel Goodman home that brings this family drama right to your seat even if you are in the back row.
The musical brings up many questions, usually presented in a play, rather than musical form. NEXT TO NORMAL has been recognized internationally as a great musical for addressing important issues regarding mental health, its treatments and consequences in a highly creative and unflinching way. Like its fellow Pulitzer Prize winners Rent and Hamilton, N2N demonstrates how far the musical form has come since the days when any Broadway show was by definition a musical comedy. Dramatically moving and emotionally potent, NEXT TO NORMAL is everything a present day musical should be. It takes a strong passionate production such as Broadway by the Bay’s version that fully reveals the power and touching beauty of NEXT TO NORMAL. Next up at BBTB is the classic SINGING IN THE RAIN that opens this fall, Nov 3rd.
Broadway By the Bay presents
NEXT TO NORMAL
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey, Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Jasen Jeffrey
Music Director Alicia Jeffrey
Mackenzie Cala, Joseph Hudelson, Caitlin McGinty, Sean Okuniewicz , Joey Pisacane and Brendan Quirk.
Must Close August 27th
2215 Broadway Street
Redwood City, California, CA 94063
Running Time Two Hours with one intermission
Photo’s by Mark & Tracy Photography