Next to Normal

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Bruno Vida embraces Matthew Korinko (seated)

What is a normal person like? Are there any in this play?

Next to Normal, by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, won three Tony awards after its Broadway debut in 2009. The next year it became only the eighth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize. Thus it arrives at the Aventura Cultural Center already wreathed in laurels.

Since the play is so famous it has its own Wikipedia entry with a detailed plot outline, I won't repeat it here. Essentially it is about the "Pfizer Woman of the Year." That line is shot at the Mother figure, played by Sharyn Peoples, by her daughter, played by Anne Chamberlain. The Mother, Diana, is on a lot of medications because she keeps seeing her teenage son who died as an infant.

We all see him too - Bruno Vida plays Gabe. Even when he is not singing he is almost always on stage as a shadowy presence, like a memory waiting to be recalled. Whenever he enters active memory, he causes strife and remorse, at one point so strong the Mother tries to join him in the afterlife. There is little joy in this family household. "People who think they're happy haven't thought about it enough," is Diana's analysis of the human condition.

The doctor's analysis of her condition is central to the play, and the step up from meds to shock therapy has consequences that shatter the already uncomfortable family unit that also consists of a daughter, the very much alive Natalie played by Anne Chamberlain and the Father played by Matthew Korinko. The cast of six is completed by the doctor (Clay Cartland) and Natalie's BF (Jason Edelstein).

All six play their parts at a level that are worthy of a Broadway production, a great credit to them and the pool of local acting talent under the direction of Patrick Fitzwater of Slow Burn Theatre who introduced the play to the Aventura audience. Success of the production is also due in large part to the versatile and visually pleasing set design of Sean McClelland, which can be seen in the smaller picture here.

This rock musical was supported by a live band. There are several notable songs including I'm Alive, sung by Vida, who has outstanding stage presence for someone who recently graduated from high school.

Trying to make a musical out of this psychological topic must have been very difficult. It's not the sort of thing that lends itself to a musical, but it works. There is nothing out of character in the portrayals of the people involved, and the cast make it believable. One of the best local productions of 2013.     

 

Next to Normal plays through Nov. 10. Visit the website for ticket details: www.aventuracenter.org

 

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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