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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Next to Normal (James Terry Collective) at Chapel off Chapel - 120 minutes plus a 20 minute interval

Updated: Mar 21, 2022

Next to Normal is one of the finest and most profound musicals to hit the stage.

It is not for naught that it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, collecting – among others – the gong for Best Original Score.

Diana Goodman (Queenie van de Zandt) is a wife and mother with a brilliant but troubled 16-year-old daughter, Natalie (Melanie Bird).

Photos by James Terry

Natalie, who is a classical music student looking to gain a place at Yale, has a fraught relationship with her mother.

Diana married her husband (Natalie’s father) Dan (Matt Hetherington) when they were both undergraduate students and she unexpectedly became pregnant with a son.

She has vivid memories of Gabe (Sam Richardson), who would now be almost 18, although he is no longer with the Goodmans.

It is soon clear that everything is not right with Diana. She is preparing cheese sandwiches and is making some of them on the floor.

Sixteen years ago she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Taking and changing her medication hasn’t and doesn’t always work and alternative psychiatrists (Ross Chisari plays Drs Fine and Madden) haven’t been able to “fix” her.

Try as Dan does to be attentive to Diana’s needs, he can’t bring himself to utter his son’s name.

Natalie feels she hasn’t received the attention she deserved growing up (playing second fiddle to Gabe).

She is reluctant to introduce her newly acquired boyfriend, stoner Henry (Hanlon Innocent) – who dotes on her – to her parents and goes off the rails.

Tension is a constant bedfellow in the Goodman household, but there is no ready-made solution, only trial and error, and it is often the latter that wins out.

Everything about James Terry Collective’s production of Next to Normal is top shelf.

Obviously, it all starts with the equally sublime writing (dramatic and comedic) and score. The music is by Tom Kitt and the book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey.

Beyond that, it is the choice of performers, band, direction, choreography and back of house.

Musically the cast is extraordinary, led by the supremely talented Queenie van de Zandt. She is magnificent – rich and redolent.

All around her are equally deserving of high praise.

Melanie Bird and Sam Richardson shine brightly throughout. Based upon what I saw, their respective futures are extremely positive, both as actors and singers.

Matt Hetherington never fails to impress vocally (in recent weeks I complimented his performance in Tommy) and does so again in this show.

Displaying light and shade are Hanlon Innocent as the boyfriend that sticks fat and Ross Chisari as the measured and flashy doctors.

The quality of the singing is first rate, as is the seven-piece band (on either side of the stage), under the musical direction of Nathan Firmin.

Movement and musical staging are the fine work of choreographer Freya List.

The set, sound and lighting design elevate the spectacle.

Tube lighting gives us the outline of a home, onto which is overlaid black and white architectural drawings of a house, which make a strong statement.

They reflect the fields of study – back in the day – of husband and wife and are suggestive of the skeleton of a happy family that requires constant sustenance to nurture.

Next to Normal, at Chapel off Chapel, is a show I would readily see again tomorrow. Put simply, it is sensational – quality entertainment with depth.


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