It could be any home on any suburban street. Inside there is a mother, a father, a daughter and a son. But life in the home in NEXT TO NORMAL, making its Delaware debut at The Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware, is neither perfect nor benignly flawed. What at first appears to be a home run by a typically overtaxed mom exposes itself as a world hanging between delusion and reality, heavy with sorrow, grief and mental imbalance.
If a rock musical about grief and mental disorder sounds heavy, it is — there wasn’t a dry eye in the room by the end, so bring tissues. It’s that powerful, and that good.
As Diana, the suburban mom coping with an immense tragedy from her past, Karen Murdock, a fixture in Delaware theater, is nothing less than amazing. Diana has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Murdock weaves the highs and lows beautifully, at least until her questionable mental health treatment turns her into a shell of herself. Patrick O’Hara, a familiar face for anyone who has seen just about any musical at The New Candlelight in Arden in the past couple of years, is perfectly cast as her devoted husband, Dan. Their teenage daughter, Natalie, has her own issues of feeling invisible and rejected; Alyssa Lewis has both the acting and singing skills to bring her to life in a way that makes you forget you’re watching a musical. Tyler DeFriece as Gabe, Diana and Dan’s 18-year-old son, is unforgettable.
The supporting cast is just as strong. Natalie falls in love along the way, her romance with the caring Henry serving as a sort of mirror for Diana and Dan’s rocky relationship. Alexander Vanderlek captures him with precision. And Dale Martin, who plays dual roles as two of Diana’s doctors (one of whom she hallucinates as a “scary rock star”), is believable, whether he’s compassionate, cold or rock ‘n roll.
All of the musicians play live on the stage, behind the main set, but visible. You forget they’re there much of the time, but they add a layer to the scenes, and they’re incredibly good. This is a Tony Award-winning Broadway show — not easy to pull off, but the musicians, as well as the actors, do indeed. The musical conductor is 17-year-old Asher Denburg, a student at Cab Calloway School for the Arts in Wilmington. You’d never know he was a high school student if it wasn’t in black-and-white in the program.
In the end, there is hope, even as the family changes, never to be the same again. The story hits hard, because the subject matter is so real and so raw. Even if a similar story doesn’t lie behind your own front door, NEXT TO NORMAL will move you.
NEXT TO NORMAL is playing for one more weekend, the 16th-18th of March (there’s a talkback after the 3pm show on the 18th). If you’re heading down to Middletown from Wilmington or Pennsylvania, give yourself a little extra time to compensate for construction and traffic around Christiana. The Everett is definitely worth the trip.
NEXT TO NORMAL
Books & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Music by Tom Kitt
Directed by Jeffrey Santoro
Music Direction by Ryan Touhey
March 9 – 18, 2012
47 W Main St.