San Diego Musical Theatre lives up to it’s promise of being “the local way to see Broadway” with their current production of NEXT TO NORMAL at the North Park Theatre. Playing through October 12th, this Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical about a woman who struggles with mental illness, and her family who struggle along with her, is brought to life by it’s cast.
This show is centered on the Goodman family, who try to maintain a normal life while the Mom, Diana (played by Bets Malone) struggles with her bipolar disorder that includes bouts of delusions, schizophrenic episodes, and depression. Malone is good at balancing the funny with the serious in this show, and makes the most of opportunities presented like in the song “Who’s Crazy” / “My Psychopharmacologist and I.” But her struggles are most clearly expressed in “I Miss the Mountains”, where she tries to decide if life is worth living at a flat elevation, when the highs and lows are part of what make you feeling alive.
Her long patient husband, played by Robert J. Townsend is doing his best to keep everyone afloat as he adamantly sings “it’s Gonna be good” and tries to keep his family from being washed away in a tidal wave of emotion. In the second act Townsend really shines in the emotional closing scenes of the show.
Daughter Natalie, played by Lindsay Joan is in high school and trying to figure out who she is, deal with all the pressures of school, while trying to be noticed by her Mother, and dealing with her first romance. Joan has a strong voice, but her character peaks a bit too soon and in the second act feels like there is no where else for her to go with the character. Regardless, it’s hard to believe she is only 16 as she stands up to this tough material.
Eddie Egan is a standout as the son, who is the only one his Mother can turn to with her problems. While he mocks his sister in “Superboy and the Invisible Girl”, and enables his Mother to come away with him “There’s a World’ Egan is powerful on stage.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Geno Carr as both Diana’s doctors, and being alternately heartbreakingly calm about treatment side effects and hilarious in Diana’s delusions, and Eric Michael Parker is sweet as Natalie’s, stoner boyfriend who won’t give up on her.
While occasionally the microphones and the music were a bit too loud, overall this rock score is beautiful thanks to the band and the musical director Don LeMaster.
This show’s subject matter is serious, with adult language and situations, and it may not be for everyone. The show is a tragic rock musical that explores a heartbreaking and sensitive topic, so while it might not be what everyone thinks of when they think of a musical, it is something you shouldn’t miss! For show time and ticket information to NEXT TO NORMAL go to http://www.sdmt.org