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Next to Normal
Sep 27, 2013 - Oct 13, 2013
Next to Normal
Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey; Music by Tom Kitt
DATES: Sept. 27 – Oct. 13, 2013
TIMES: Wed – Sat at 7:30 p.m., Sun at 3 p.m.
TICKETS: Des Moines Performing Arts Ticket Office
SUNDAY TALK-BACK: Sept. 29, 5 p.m.
Breathtaking. Heartbreaking. Uplifting. Unforgettable. Next to Normal tells the story of a mother who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness has on her family. This contemporary musical is an emotional powerhouse that addresses such issues as grieving a loss, ethics in modern psychiatry, and suburban life. With provocative lyrics and a thrilling score, this musical shows how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their family’s world intact.
Diana (double cast*): Kellie Kramer & Kelly Schaefer
Dan: Jonathan deLima
Natalie: Ashley Wiser
Gabe: Zander Morales
Henry: Anson Woodin
Doctor: Charlie Reese
*Performance dates for each “Diana” is listed below.
Sept. 27, 29; Oct. 3, 5, 9, 11, 13 – Kellie Kramer
Sept. 28; Oct. 2, 4, 6, 10, 12 – Kelly Schaefer
Director: Brad Dell
Music Direction: Ben Hagen
Assistant Director: Austin Schinke
Stage Manager: Josh Ster
Set Design: Clayton Daggett
Lighting Design: Drew David Vander Werff
Sound Design: Josh Jepson
Costumes / Prop Design: Wayne Kischer
Production Manager: Shelby Burgus
Hair and Makeup: Cindy Hummel
Dramaturgy: Nancy Evans
Master Carpenter: Paul Mostrom
“StageWest’s Next to Normal offers rare insight into mental illness”
Theatrical review by Michael Morain The Des Moines Register 9/30/2013
When Diana Goodman’s therapist explains the treatment plan for her bipolar disorder in Stage-West’s “Next to Normal,” he sits calmly in his office chair. His voice is coolly reassuring.
But what she hears is a different story. An electric guitar wails in the background while the stage lights turn a hellish red. The doctor becomes a death-metal demon pitching a deal with the devil.
Obviously, this is a difference in perception. People never see things quite the same way.
But to a person, the Stoner Theater audience on Sunday saw an unflinching performance of a powerful story, which wrung out far more emotion than the national tour that visited the Des Moines Civic Center’s main stage in 2011. I even heard a few sniffles during the second act.
The local production of Brian Yorkey’s Pulitzer-winning rock musical, directed by Brad Dell, benefits from the Stoner’s intimate space. Since much of the drama takes place inside the character’s head, it helps that you can sit close enough to watch them think, to see their faces cloud over with worry and fear.
The face I’ll remember for a long time belongs to the pale blonde Kellie Kramer, who mixes the suburban mom Diana’s brittle vulnerability with bouts of steely will. Her blue eyes roll with skepticism when her doctor suggests hypnosis and dart nervously back and forth at the prospect of more pills. Sometimes they go eerily vacant.
Kramer sings well, too, and with more conviction than the Tony winner Alice Ripley, who starred in the national tour. (Here the role is double cast due to its vocal demands, so Kramer, who co-hosts the IPTV series “Iowa Outdoors,” alternates with Kelly Schaefer, who teaches theater at Iowa State.)
Tom Kitt’s propulsive score careens from one extreme to the next as Diana descends into mental illness, and Kramer shifts accordingly, belting over pounding drums and whisper-singing with the music box Diana used to play for her infant son. (Pianist Ben Hagen directs the excellent six-piece band at the back of the stage.)
This is one of those stories where you wonder who has it the worst. Is it the woman losing her mind or the guy who takes care of her? Jonathan deLima makes a solid case for the latter, a husband who is stretched to his limits — hopeful, stern, scared and at times completely worn out.
Both he and Kramer perform regularly around town, as do Zander Morales, who plays the couple’s lively son, and the versatile Charlie Reese, who plays Diana’s multiple doctors. All of them have impressed audiences before, and this time is no exception.
So the big surprise is newcomer Ashley Wiser, who plays the couple’s teenage daughter and sings with the show’s strongest voice. She colors her sound with real feeling, adding depth to her resentful outbursts and warmth toward her stoner boyfriend, a human puppy played by Anson Woodin in another promising Stage-West debut.
The cast climbs around a spare, conceptual set (Clayton Daggett) furnished only with a table and several irregular black platforms. Shadows and colored lights (Drew David Vander Werff) play up the psychological turmoil in a way that a novel or even a movie never could.
And that’s something I didn’t consider about the show before: It’s all an act. It’s all about perception. What happens on stage is an extension of what happens everywhere else, where real people mask whatever real troubles they’re tackling inside.
Only 17 percent of American adults are in an optimal state of mental health at any given time, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And one in four of us will experience some sort of mental disorder in any given year, which calls into question what “normal” really is.
Members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who joined a Q-and-A session after Sunday’s performance, estimate that the ripple effects of mental illness — unemployment, drug abuse, homelessness, crime — cost the country more than $100 billion each year, and the search for solutions is just getting started.
“Next to Normal” doesn’t offer any tidy answers, but it doesn’t ignore the questions either.
“Maybe we can’t be OK,” Diana sings toward the end. “But maybe we’re tough and we’ll try anyway.”
Normal is anything but – it is spectacular
Theatrical review by John Busbee The Culture Buzz 9/29/2013
On rare occasions, regional theatre in Iowa hits high notes usually reserved for Broadway or national tours. StageWest Theater Company achieves such success with its season-opening hit, Next to Normal, a sterling tour de force for Greater Des Moines theatre fans.
Next to Normal is the gripping musical about mental illness, distilled from the massive depth and breadth that generic category covers into a wholly integrated theatrical experience about mental illness and the lives of a family affected by it. This play touches on breakdowns, coping, denial and the always delicate balance between people riding an ever-shifting emotional and interactional wave. Centered on the family’s mother, spiraling downward in a bipolar disorder quagmire, the father, daughter and brother become parts of the volatile mental morass each try to escape, individually and as a family. Add statement scenes about today’s psychotherapy and the glimmer-of-hope budding relationship with the daughter and a considerate boyfriend, and this show mesmerizes and captivates the audience from the opening breakdown statement song, “Just Another Day.”
With brilliant book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and masterful music by Tom Kitt, Next to Normal has the rare distinction of being one of the few musicals to also win the Pulitzer Prize in addition to a myriad of well-deserved performance awards. However, it takes much more than brilliant source material to create the dynamic results which Director Brad Dell does. Under his visceral, sweeping staging, Dell gives his skilled cast an understanding and interlacing of this story which elevates the experience to an irresistible impact. Blending the physical and vocal demands of this show as it powerfully unfolds, it surges across the stage and envelopes the audience, leaving each viewer sorting out his or her own personal understandings of mental illness.
Each cast member shines in her or his moments as the crescendos within the story penetrate every corner of the mind, and the combined talent amplifies the music and acting to stellar heights. As Diana Goodman, the mother fighting her inner demons, Kellie Kramer embraces her challenging role with an array of disarming power, poignancy and precision. (This lead role is alternately shared with Kelly Martin Schaefer, another talented performer.) As her troubled husband, futilely grasping at some semblance of normalcy, Jonathan deLima’s Dan gives conflicted balance to his wife’s turbulent illness. deLima especially shines in the closing scenes of the show, when his vision of a happy family crumbles, leaving him to fight his own inner challenges. As the son, Gabe, Zander Morales brings a full-throated darkness and internal demon to his role, shrouding his scenes with an internal and unforgiving seduction. The Goodman’s daughter, Natalie, balances her teen urges with her role as perhaps the most grounded member of the family. Ashley Wiser exudes a believable Natalie, walking a fine line between worlds of conflict. As the love-stricken boyfriend, Henry, Anson Woodin wears his role with an affable ease and an honest sincerity, singing with a confident charm. Bringing his chameleon-like gifts to the stage in the dual roles of Drs. Fine and Madden is Charlie Reese, showing great range and vocal prowess, often shifting in a moment from reality to Diana’s delusions. The combinations of this cast as they work singly, in pairs, in groups or as a chorus under Dell’s guidance infuse the audience with a moving experience.
The element of this production which boosts such a great show to even loftier heights lies in what Musical Director Ben Hagen and his incredible 6-piece orchestra do. Their music is such an integral part of the show, as he weaves his orchestra with his singers, never overpowering, always a shared delivery of the score, that it feels as if the audience is experiencing one ensemble organism, completely in concert with all of its parts. Hagen presents his music with exemplary panache and touch, showing why he is the best in crafting musical theatre this region has.
Other production elements, from Drew David Vander Werff’s evocative lighting, to Clayton Daggett’s wonderful angular flat black scenic design, to Wayne Kischer’s costumes and properties, all blend together into a strong show. Especially noteworthy is how Josh Jepsen, as sound designer, brought a clarity and balance to all the music, dialogue, and orchestra, as few shows seem able to accomplish in this market. The StageWest team knows its performance venue well.
Simply stated, this Next to Normal production is not to be missed. It proves that national, professional caliber musical theatre can be produced in Central Iowa. Perhaps most importantly, it shines an understanding light on the issue of mental illness, complete with its ambiguities, darkness and pervasiveness. This issue is not black and white, but varies as wide as a color spectrum. Next to Normal provides us the chance to truly delve into a better understanding of mental illness. This show will be the measuring stick for many future shows to come, and beckons to those who appreciate the best in live theatre. So, be beguiled and experience Next to Normal as StageWest begins its new season with unforgettable flair.