BROOKFIELD — Is musical theater the vehicle for portraying society’s deeper, darker issues and transforming a message from taboo to topical? The Brookfield Theatre of the Arts (TBTA) production of Next to Normal, a musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, proves that it is exactly the venue for such a conveyance. Exposing the experience of mental illness, this production takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster allowing them to experience the “mountains” that are lost in a fog of pharmaceuticals administered to those in anguish.
Once again, under the bold direction of Michael Burnett, TBTA has produced a musical that informs, enlightens, and moves the audience by way of dramatic, powerful performances, lovely voices, and a stirring live rock band. Diana Goodman, played by Juliette Garrison Koch, is a middle-aged mother in full melt-down mode. Her son, Luke, and daughter, Natalie, (Luke Garrison and Sydney Coelho), engage with her on very different levels — one adored, one ignored. Chuck Stango is her loyal, exhausted husband, Dan. Her psychiatrists, Drs Fine and Madden (Keith Guinta) each run through their bags of tricks to try to achieve stability for Diana. Natalie is supported by her sweet, adoring “perfect” partner, Henry, played by Matt Madden.
This musical is serious business. A crisis serves to push its unlucky victim off the cliff of sanity, taking her loved ones with her. The contemporary, almost-operatic show is visceral in its depiction of the blistering pain felt and caused by the afflicted. Trying to maintain some modicum of normalcy, the family members each experience and express their own frustration and fear as they live in wait for the next episode to derail their lives. The music in Next to Normal tells the tale of repeated trips to and over the brink, as well as the myriad of efforts made to cure Diana. Cure is not an option and this becomes evident through try after try. The music and lyrics are lively and heart wrenching. Each character has ample opportunity to display his or her vocal gifts, and they relish the chance.
Juliette Garrison Koch is strong as Diana and embraces the opportunity to perform with her real life, and very talented, son, Luke Garrison. The love and chemistry between them is palpable. They are truly enjoying this moment. Chuck Stango, with perfect physicality, is heartbreaking as the husband who never loses hope, as is Sydney Coelho, the daughter who yearns to be seen. Both display strong vocal aptitude, Ms Coelho reveals a beautiful falsetto. Keith Guinta sings with a rich voice in an easy, unforced manner that makes his portrayal of the two physicians completely believable. Matt Madden, as Henry, delivers a performance that is sweet, subtle, and completely connected to his character.
The minimalist set serves to enhance the emotional impact by not distracting from it. It is just enough. Very effective lighting reflects both the dark and explosive nature of mental illness. The ill-fitting costumes enhance the uneasy, on edge circumstances of life in the Goodman household.
“Love is insane” sings Dan, as is much of life. This skillfully crafted production offers the audience an opportunity to feel those emotional mountains that Diana misses so. Pulling back the curtain on a chronic condition which touches so many is the responsibility and reward of theater. It provides an opportunity to understand. Don’t miss the chance.
Next to Normal runs at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts through July 26, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sunday matinees on July 13 and 20, at 2 pm.
TBTA is at 184 Whisconier Road. Tickets available at brookfieldtheatre.org.