Next To Normal

Next To Normal

Next To Normal
Book and Lyric by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Julia Gagne
Musical Direction by Tim Hanes
Starring Janine Papin
Valencia College Theater
Orlando, FL

What makes a musical great? Beside catchy songs and snappy dialog, something has to get better in someone’s life. That’s not what we get tonight; rather we take a trip down the rabbit hole of mental illness and modern pill-based therapies that only seem to make the problem more expensive. Diana (Papin) loves supportive husband Dan (Phillip Edwards) as well as daughter Natalie (Franceska Mitchell) and a lost son Gabe (Hector Sanchez Jr.). Her crisis lies along the schizophrenia axis and dedicated doctor (Ryan Jordan Garcia) firmly believes that out there somewhere lies a golden land where pills balance poisons. Diana tries uppers and downers and side-waysers and upside-downsicles, but it all comes back to this: making her better only makes her feel worse. Hubby absorbs the stress, Natalie’s ready to flee the moment she can, and demonic Gabe haunts her through pills and hypnosis and electroshock. This kid is a persistent little McGuffin, isn’t he?

The story does resonate as we all know someone who is not completely on track. The set rocks with its jigsaw puzzle motif Autism made popular and the acting nails all the roles solidly. Papin mixes niceness with the edginess of those clinging on the edge of a cliff. Sanchez begins nice but by curtain he’s a vicious little kobold. And while a few notable songs appear (“It’s Gonna Be Good,” “Song of Forgetting,” “Super Boy and The Invisible Girl”) the sung-though dialog quickly became annoying. Tom Kitt’s rather tuneless music noodles along giving the actors a background to sing against, but not much of melody for us to remember. Maybe that’s intentional; Diana’s journey has a hopeless end point and the best she can hope for is the occasional good days scattered in the dusty clay of a condition where electroshock feels like a promising future.

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