Review: The Phoenix Theatre's "Next to Normal"

February 6, 2013
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Next to Normal,” the Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical about the impact of a woman’s mental illness on herself and her family, is an earnest, unique curiosity, more admirable than affecting…at least, for me.

In talking to others who have seen this and the New York production of the show, I’ve come to realize that that it’s near impossible to predict who is going to buy into “Normal.”

Those whose families have struggled with mental illness? Some will find it simplified and irresponsible, others will see it as profound.

Therapists? Some are likely to be angry; other’s to say “it’s about time.”

Musical theater buffs? Some have it on a pedestal; other’s wonder why the characters seem to do little except sing at each other.

I could divide everyone I know into those who would or wouldn’t like “Cats” or “Ragtime” with a margin of error of maybe 5%. With “Next to Normal,” well, there’s no telling.

There are those deeply impacted by the torment-filled show and see its no heroes/no villains exploration of its serious subject as cause enough for praise. There are others for whom “Next to Normal” is little more than an exhausting angst-fest, in-your-face but with little to say. For them, it’s just as artificial as lighter musicals, only with a greater sense of self-importance.

I can’t speak for the Broadway production, but at the Phoenix, an uncertain tone, less-than-rocking orchestrations and an acceptable-but-not-exceptional cast accentuate instead of mask the show’s weaknesses. These include power ballads that may have been more impressive when diffused through a larger theater and backed by a stronger band, a subplot that doesn’t rise above “Afterschool Special” level, and a confused, would-be empowering ending that isn’t earned. I’d be more specific, but I’m trying to resist spoilers. Suffice it to say that if the writing, directing, and acting came together more often the way they do at the end of the first act—and if the overall impact was as sad and truthful as the way the lead character’s confusion heartbreakingly comes through in actress Emily Ristine’s eyes—“Next to Normal” would be a must see. For just about anyone.

Your thoughts?

  • Next to Nevermind
    Thanks, Lou, for confirming my suspicion that this one wasn't worth attending. I almost saw it in NYC when it first opened, mainly because I have been a fan of Louis Hobson from back when he was in practically everything at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. I was really hoping to get to see him follow in Cheyenne Jackson's footsteps from Seattle to Broadway. After seeing the performance on the Tony Awards and reading more about the show, I opted for something less depressing. Sounds like I made the right choice. So, instead tonight it is opening night for 9 to 5 at Beef and Boards. Not a spectacular show to begin with, but at least I will leave happy.
    • worth attending
      Barbara, I never want to talk anyone out of going to see a show (okay, I did try to do that when Monopause: the Musical played the Athenaeum, but that was a special case). As I wrote, "Next to Normal" really speaks to some people. Your mileage may vary. Still, I'm glad that, if you aren't going, then you are opting to go to another show instead of resorting to TV.--Lou
    • I'd still give it a shot
      I swa Next to Normal at both Arena Stage in DC (when it was in its temporary Crystal City venue) and in NYC. You've aptly noted that it's tough to say who is going to really appreciate the show. I do think it is a more challenging production to do in a very small space. It's rock-oriented score filled with heavy ballads needs space to reverberate and dissipate. And because it essentially is an ensemble show, each cast member must really be firing on all cylinders for the experience to resonate. That said, it's not your typical musical and that alone is a reason that theatre lovers should check it out. It has a few gorgeous songs and explores issues not often found in a musical. Even if you don't love it, you'll find plenty to like.
    • Loved it!
      I saw Next To Normal on opening night and was thoroughly impressed with cast and the production as a whole. I'm going again this week and taking more people with me. I would urge everyone to go see this well done Pulitzer Prize winning musical!

    Post a comment to this blog

    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    1. Good Day I am Mr (Victoria Wright) from United state of America, i stayed in NEW YORK, and i have a broke up business, until i found this company email who help me to gain a loan for business,, and now i want to used this short medium to congratulate the below company for the fast and safe money they loan to me without any form of collateral, i loan 500,000USD from the company to save my business and lots more, i saw their mail on the internet, everyone always give testimony for what they did, so i quickly contacted them and they all did everything for me without stress and my money was sent to my account just 3 days later, i was surprise and i feel so glad, now i have a standard business control agent who help me, now i will advice those who need urgent loan to contact him at the bellow

    2. NOTICE:This is to inform the general public that Vampires are real. My name is James Franklyn.,am an agent of vampire,am here to introduce our new world trend to you,a world of vampire where life get easier,we have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich,you will be assured long life and prosperity,you shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness,stronger and also very fast,you will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk.In case you are wildly oppressed by some unscrupulous persons we can still help you fight them.Your protection is assured immediately you join.Just contact the bellow email if you are interested we are here to attend to you anytime you want us. Contact the bellow email for more details. Sincerely: James Franklyn.

    3. Bravo! Someone else that is willing to speak the truth! Bravo!_____NBCSN is available in almost 2 MILLION more homes than just a few years ago, but Indycar STILL gets less total viewers than it did just a few years ago when NBC took over Versus. Attendance and ratings cratered with the end of season races (just when the title battle got "interesting" HAH!__________And race in Basilia, where Miles celebrated the "rich history" of Indycar racing there. Rich history? What, 7 events in the 100 years of AOW? Yep, some history. Well, at least its an oval. It's not??? Are you kidding me??? Gosh darn road racin furriners.

    4. PURITY RAY LOAN OFFER........ Have you been denied by your banks,or are you in need of of an urgent loan to pay of your bills we are capable of giving loans @ cheaper rate to interested individuals, student, companies and members of the public in need of finance to settle bills, we do offer considerable loans which you can count on. For more information on our various types of loan,then you will have to contact PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM, to help you achieve your desire LOAN APPLICATION FORM TO BE FILLED BORROWERS INFORMATION * Full name:………………………. * SEX * ……………………………. * Country………………………….. * State:……………………………. * Land:…………………………….. * Occupation:…………………….. * phone number:…………………. * Telephone: ………………………….. * Age:………………………………. * Amount needed as loan:……… * Loan Duration:………………….. * Propose of Loan:……………….. * Annual revenue:………………… * Monthly Income:……………….. * Guarantee:………………………. * Payment: monthly or annually Thank you and God bless Mr Purity Ray PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM we tend to serve you better

    5. Problem: most of the people responding to this article don't know about this service AT ALL! Why? Lack of awareness. This isn't IndyGo. This is CIRTA: might as well be the mattress company because they are asleep at the wheel - something like 3 directors over the last year? Playing with federal grant money is great! This "region" wants commuter rail service, has spent MILLIONS on Transportation studies yet can't even support a commuter bus line? This is largely for suburban riders to get to downtown - not for "service people to work in our hotels and restaurants" ! Get your head out of your backside!! These are professionals, students etc. that don't want to fight traffic, save some money on parking, gas, stress.... if CIRTA would put their federal money into widely promoting the sevive to Greenwood, Fishers & Carmel instead of finding directors and studies - this would be a successful service. Our family uses(d) it daily for the last several years - but the recent uncertainty & now unreliability due to cuts from Carmel has been a problem. Now, costs us an additional $350/month for gas & parking ( $4200/year) plus vehicle wear, service, environmental impact ... YES - this REGION needs this this type of service in order to keep growing and getting the people it needs to fill skilled positions in downtown Indianapolis. Think outside of your own car !!!