"Next to Normal" is one of only eight musicals to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. So any production really has an awful lot to live up to.
Panic Productions clearly rises to the occasion with their latest version of this unique and heartbreaking show.
As a subject for a musical, mental illness doesn’t immediately spring to mind, but therein lies its brilliance. To take something so difficult, so unspoken of and not only speak of it but sing it, is absolutely genius. Yet it does pose some obvious difficulties for a company. There’s nothing to hide behind, no gimmicks or camp, and no trickery. Right away we know what's going on, within the first number even, it’s out there, the ‘crazy’ of the family and the rest of the show is about how everyone deals with it…or doesn’t as the case may be.
So this brutal honesty is why it becomes a daunting task, anyone attempting it must be prepared to be perfect. To be dazzling in their vocal abilities, their honest, open acting and oh the harmonies. Panic productions pulls out all the stops and is more than equal to the task. The cast is all just fantastic.
It’s a tough show, full of sadness and struggle, but somehow there is joy throughout, such is our human quirkiness to find the funny in the sorrow. If you don’t know the show I won’t say too much about the plot, suffice it to say it’s about a family struggling with a mother's mental decline and finding a way forward through the pain. It really is such a wonderful show.
The actors are truly flawless, their beautiful, strong, heart-filled voices soaring in this lovely theatre. Their energy fills the songs with power and truth and they just don’t ever step away from the driving force of the piece, their collective dream to be well while trying to live with the consequences of a broken mind.
I wept through most of it to be honest. I’m a sap, I know. But the songs are so incredibly able to slice through to the bone of this family's life. Through the pretense and the affectation, straight through to the core of each and every character. The story's fierce and bold, yet the songs are heartbreaking and profound. And the performances are equally excellent. Each of their magical voices supports the other, harmonizing and blending and twisting around each other in fluid and magical passion.
Without the actors voices' depth and truth these songs would have much less meaning. This cast pays full homage to the brilliance of the words and the heartache of the music.
I cannot recommend this production of "Next to Normal" highly enough. It really is a joy, all be it a sorrowful one. It’s a terribly short run, so please make an effort and get out and see this show.
Music by Tom Kitt
Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Corey Lynn Howe
June 2 - 17th
Hillcrest Center for The Arts, 403, w. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks