NEXT TO NORMAL

West Moon Theatre, Studio 16, until February 17th

My Two Pence

My Two Cents

By Robert Blackburn

 

'Next to Normal' by West Moon Theatre is on at the intimate Studio 16, in a heavy-hitting musical done right. 

 

Dealing with mental-health issues and more specifically bi-polar, this moody and dark but pacey and rock show presents the duality of the illness and the toll it not only takes on its victim but friends and family as well.

 

Watching cast A, in this double-cast production, Marie West took on the central role of Diana and played the sensitive, emotional moments that came with the suffering from this disease and its affect on the people she loved with aplomb. Her tender scenes; dialogue and singing, were truthful, natural and moving. It did seem however that she struggled slightly with the more rocky, fast-paced songs which required outbursts of fiery, kinetic energy. This would have perhaps allowed a deeper dive into the mental fragility of the character.

 

Playing opposite her, Mark Wolf as her husband Dan, had the opposite problem. Alive and full of vigour in the more showy and musical theatre like numbers, his attempts in the quieter and subtle moments of deep emotion fell flat.

Not having a problem with either trope when required were the young trio of the cast, Katrina Teitz, Daren Dyhengco and Blake Sartin as Natalie, Gabe and Henry respectively. They all had consistently natural and fully-formed characters. Teitz especially encapsulated an angry, rebellious but emotional seventeen year old almost to perfection. Dyhengco oozed charisma in his manipulative role throughout the play.

 

Chris Lam, who directed, has designed an entertaining and engrossing show. His blocking was unique and thoughtful and did a lot with the limited amount of opportunities the black box theatre of studio 16 provides. The lighting design by Jonathan Kim, was a character all unto itself and has to be mentioned as it was wound and slithered itself throughout the scenery. When it worked, it really worked, such as casting a perfect half-shadow on the face of Diane as the play opened. The meaning, obvious but still so effective. But you can have too much of a good thing and constant shadows drowned actors and some scenes out. Whether this was by design or through the fault of the space it did render some songs empty.

Ultimately that last critique can be applied to the play as a whole. A sense of the law of diminishing returns was definitely setting in as we headed to final curtain. This could be down to the repetitive nature of the subject, the songs all broadly sounding very similar or the restrictive nature of the space itself not able to supply a full variety of choice for entrances, exits and scene changes. But looking past that the individual quiet moments, especially between West and Teitz, mother and daughter at the close, make it a worthwhile watch.

 

By Kelly Moncton

 

Next to Normal is an intense look at a troubled family. West Moon Theatre and Chris Lam don’t shy away from the dark moments, but also show how all of the characters try to hold things together in their own ways.

The music is complex and beautifully performed. Musical director Peter Abando and sound designer Sean Anthony mostly pull off the tricky job of balancing amplified voices and live instruments in the intimate Studio 16 Theatre. The lighting was more challenging for the audience. It seemed like the strong shadows and partially-lit performers was an effect meant to reflect the darkness in this family struggling with grief and mental disorders. The resulting partial vision felt like it disconnected the audience, rather than drawing them into the story.

 

Lee Mckeown was powerful and vulnerable as Diana, the mother at the heart of this dysfunctional family. Her singing is compelling, and she made the most of both quiet intimate moments and bold gestures. She was well-matched by her daughter, played by Jennifer Shannon. Shannon sings with strength and clarity, and she brought a warmth to her character that helped balance the many disappointments she faced. As her boyfriend Henry, Max Lim was especially charming in his opening ‘meet-cute’ moments, and sailed through some lovely high notes. Likewise, Frankie Cottrell showed off incredible singing in this production, belting out rock star moments and sweetly crooning in his falsetto. His character, Gabe, was given great charm and focus. Dr Fine and Dr Madden, both played by Sean Anthony, are set in opposition to Gabe, but all three characters are persuasive, and genuinely feel like they want what’s best for the family. Even when a doctor was proposing a harsh treatment, he was chillingly matter-of-fact and calm about it, without losing a compassionate side. As Dan, the father, I enjoyed Jeremy Leroux’s performance the most when he was pushed to extreme anger or sadness. Often, he is saddled with being the ‘reasonable’ one, which Is a challenge in this dramatic show.

 

 

As a newcomer to this musical, I found it hard to keep up with some of the quick lyrics, but all of the key moments were made crystal clear by the talent on and offstage. This certainly isn’t a shallow, feel-good musical, but if you’re ready for intensity, West Moon Theatre’s Next to Normal is the show for you.