Musical Theater Takes on Depression!

Next to Normal (N2N) is a rock musical that tells the story of a woman who suffers from bi-polar disorder and the effects this mental illness has on her family. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can say that I consider the writing in this show to be some of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing. The double meanings that lace so much of the story allow the viewers to gain more depth with each viewing experience. However, it’s worth mentioning that this is a heavy show that deals with tough issues and is accompanied by strong language.

Admittedly, I was thrilled when I found out that Midvale Main Street Theater had made the brave choice to produce this show. N2N is one of my all time favorites. I have seen several productions from SLC to NYC. However, I was also worried because this is a Pulitzer Prize winning piece of a theatrical genius (in my opinion). I didn’t expect perfection but I hoped that it would be treated with the respect that it deserved.

Midvale Main is not your typical theater. It’s set up more like a dinner theater with tables and a concession stand that sells food reminiscent of a ball-park (hamburgers, hotdogs, popcorn, etc.). Instead of your 30-40 something typical theater going crowd, the majority of the audience was probably under 30. I applaud this daring theater for producing shows that are accessible to those who may not have the means (or the desire) to make it to NYC or even one of the more expensive theater companies in the area.

I am hesitant to use words like “community theater,” “non-professional company,” or “not equity” because they have come to have negative connotations. It’s true that you will not likely find a fully trained, life long actor who makes a living in the theater at a small playhouse in Midvale Utah. With training comes experience and polish. However, anyone who has seen a number of Broadway shows in NY will tell you – sometimes Broadway is just not very good and sometimes community productions are mind blowing. I am pretty sure that those involved with this and most community productions are not paid, or may be compensated very litte. So, does this production fit into the bracket of normal community theater? I’d say that expecting “something next to normal would be okay.”

Dustin Bolt as Dan Goodman was outstanding. He was energetic and exiting to watch in “It’s Gonna Be Good” and sincere and solemn in “He’s not Here.” Overall, Bolt gave an honest yet powerful performance. While the casting of Diana (Sara McDonald) and Dan Goodman was a little on the young side – it was hard to believe that they were old enough to have two children in their late teens – both actors handled this piece with respect and commitment.

McDonald came across authentic and real within the first few moments of the show. There was a refreshing rawness that came with not being too polished. She brought a new insecurity to Diana that helped convey her own confusion with her illness. The vocal demands of this role have worn even the most seasoned professionals down. Between her strong vocals and the sound system being on the loud side, at times it was too much. If both McDonald and the sound design could rein things in a little, it would allow the viewer to connect to the power rather than the sound volume (which in it’s own right was impressive but not necessarily appropriate).

For an endeavor of this magnitude, I say well done and have actually already recommended that several people make sure to see this production. However, there were some areas that could be done better. The sound was painful at times. For the most part, the actors had fairly strong voices and it would have almost been better not to mic them in this small space. If the sound wasn’t crackling, it was cutting in and out. And when it wasn’t doing that it was simply way too loud. I sat on the second row of tables towards the right and found myself plugging my ear closest to the speakers at times to alleviate some of the loudness. Granted, I’d rather hear (even too loud) than not be able to hear at all but when there are a few extra funds, this is the first thing that should be upgraded. In the meantime, turn it down, especially when there is more than one person singing.

The casting and direction (Tammy Ross) was well done for the most part. The pairing of Cassidy Ross (Natalie Goodman) and Mason Homestead (Henry) felt natural and fluid as they moved through the stage. These two were always fun to watch and they played to each other extremely well. Ross appeared vulnerable and angry and Homestead’s (loved the DARE t-shirt) devotion is clear and apparent. “A Light in the Dark” showcased not only Bolt’s beautiful voice but also the simple contemplation of the paperwork allowed for greater connection. Gabe handing Diana the music box and Dr. Madden’s physically grabbing onto Diana in an incredibly tense moment worked really well. I wanted more of these thoughtful subtleties. I found this missing at points in the night. Sometimes the silence or a small stage direction choice is more powerful. Slowing the pace at times would be helpful. It would allow for the character to speak and the other (and the audience) to receive and absorb the information rather than rush on with their lines. The scenes with Ryan Fallis as the Dr. allowed for deeper consideration, as there were more natural pauses.

And finally, I found it difficult to connect to Aaron Ford as Gabe Goodman. Although, based on the applause of the audience, I may have been the only one. I felt that a majority of the performance was just that – a performance. In “I’m Alive” it felt as if I were watching a pop-music singer striding around stage, striking poses and overplaying the part to me. However, there were moments where I believe he stopped preforming and connected to the character. In “Catch me I’m Falling” there was a genuine sincerity and in “I am the One (reprise)/Gabe” – both Ford and Bolt were spot on as I found myself tearing up. This moment is my favorite of the show and my favorite of this production. I am beyond grateful that the lighting, sound, and acting came together in a moment of awesomeness.

The production on a whole exceeded my expectations. I absolutely enjoyed myself and would go again if the calendar permitted. As a reviewer, I am supposed to pay attention and provide feedback on what worked and what needed work. I hope I did that.  However, if you like theater and have in interest in this show – go see it! It is well worth the time and money you would spend. Next to Normal is a beautiful work to start with and Midvale Main gives it the respect it deserves.  Well done!

Next to Normal performs March  22, 23, 24, 29, 30 & 31, at 7:00 pm. Two additional matinee shows have been added: Saturday, March 17, at 2:00pm & Saturday, March 24, at 2:00pm. Tickets available at the door or online at http://www.midvaletheatre.com. Tickets for the two matinee performances may only be purchased at the door. 

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