Matthew Meckes as Gabe, Janis Greim as Diana, Michael Traupman as Dan in Civic Theatre's NEXT TO NORMAL! (Photo credit: Marco Calderone Photography)

Civic Theatre’s NEXT TO NORMAL Features Beautiful Voices

by Walter Bender
The Cast of Civic Theatre of Allentown's NEXT TO NORMAL. (Photo credit: Marco Calderone Photography)

The Cast of Civic Theatre of Allentown’s NEXT TO NORMAL. (Photo credit: Marco Calderone Photography)

Civic Theatre of Allentown closes its 2013 season with the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical NEXT TO NORMAL. This is a very different musical…no feel good story here. The primary character is a 40-something woman with bipolar disorder, trying to deal with her disease, the attendant hallucinations, and her family. It’s not a pretty story, but it is a beautiful musical.

I have to say up front that the voices assembled in this cast were amazing. Every song was spot on vocally…and this music is VERY difficult. However, the score is beautiful, and the cast does a beautiful job performing it.

Playing the mother Diana Goodman, Janis Greim has a very difficult role to portray. Her character has the manic highs and horrible lows of the bipolar sufferer, and has to try to share the internal struggle to the audience. Michael Traupman (Dan Goodman) is the husband who tries to be supportive but hides his own depression behind being strong for his family. Kallie Linder (Natalie Goodman) is the daughter whose growing frustration and anger at her family upheaval make her at first an overachiever then induce her to try to hide from her family’s problems. Will Morris (Henry) is Natalie’s classmate, then boyfriend, a self-professed stoner who tries to help Natalie through her issues. Brian Foley (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine) are the medical professionals who use varying treatments to try to help Diana. Finally Matthew Meckes (Gabe Goodman) is the son around whom much of the story revolves.

Janis Greim as Diana and Kallie Linder as Natalie in Civic Theatre's NEXT TO NORMAL. (Photo credit: Marco Calderone Photography)

Janis Greim as Diana and Kallie Linder as Natalie in Civic Theatre’s NEXT TO NORMAL. (Photo credit: Marco Calderone Photography)

I am not revealing much of the storyline on purpose…for those of you who have not seen this musical (and you should!) the “Big Reveal” is such a great part of the story, it shouldn’t be ruined. I will say that the musical deals with the relative theoretical nature of dealing with mental illnesses, and the trial and error that goes into trying to help make people “normal.”

As a concert, this was a wonderful production, and the show should not be missed for that reason alone. However, there were some flaws that tempered my enthusiasm for the show as a musical theatre property. Greim looked a bit too young to be playing her role, and the costumes she wore didn’t help…she was dressed “young” and in many cases dressed nicely. Part of the nuance of the character is that when she is in her low periods she just doesn’t care about her appearance. There were times throughout the show where I felt a lack of energy despite the high-energy musical score…the emotional fire from some of the characters was missing, and I felt like I was missing something. The director didn’t assist the characters to set up the “wow” moments in the show…the Big Reveal (which should be a very powerful moment in the show) garnered no reaction from the audience, nor it appeared from the cast. There were also times when I wanted more from the characters…the anger, frustration, jealousy just wasn’t there in their acting, nor in the vocals. I also was confused by some of the choreography…there seemed to be no motive for the movements other than to move, especially in the numbers with all of the characters.

Even with the flaws, you should go see this production. The music is beautiful, and the cast performs the music very well. The audience on the night I attended gave the cast an enthusiastic standing ovation. The story isn’t the usual one for a musical…no happy ending, no resolution…but it’s a very powerful story and well worth the visit.

Music by Tom Kitt, Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Director/Choreographer William Sanders, Musical Director Justin Brehm
May 3-19, 2013
Civic Theatre of Allentown
Nineteenth Street Theatre
527 N. 19th St, Allentown PA 18104

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