The next generation of musicals is popping up right here in the Triangle. Theatre is the Park’s current production is Next to Normal, the Yorkey and Kitt musical which broke down boundaries and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010. Only a select few musicals have been awarded that honor.
Next to Normal tells the story of an average American family dealing with tragedy. The heads of the family, Dan and Diana, are struggling to move on with their lives even years later. The show delves into mental health issues and their impact on individuals and families. Their daughter Natalie is navigating high school while her mom undergoes electric shock therapy (yes, they still do that). The brilliant rock score carries the six cast members through the highs and lows of dealing with mental illness.
The show was ultimately difficult to evaluate due to some persistent sound issues. Perhaps the sound system at the theater is not set up to handle a rock musical like this one. There was some microphone feedback from the speakers, some instances where actors were being picked up by each other’s microphones, and often the band was much louder than the singers. Hopefully, those kinks have been worked out since opening night.
Despite some instances of singing upstage and offstage, the direction was good, and the cast members certainly tackled the intense vocal demands of the show. Jessika Brust filled the demanding role of Diana vocally; however, the standouts in the cast were Kenneth Griggs as Dan and Kelsey Walston as Natalie. Their father/daughter chemistry was endearing, they were created relatable characters who the audience wants to root for, and they impressed many times with their singing. Two particular highlights were Griggs singing “I’ve Been” and Walston singing “Wish I Were Here.” The rock genre seemed to be in their vocal wheelhouse, and they sounded like the challenging score was easy for them.
Ultimately, Next to Normal is a phenomenal story and a great show. It is a landmark piece of musical theater history, and it marks the direction in which musical theater is headed. Next to Normal runs through September 23. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatreinthepark.com.