Monday, October 21, 2013

Running for the Shelter of Mama's Little Helper


“Next To Normal” Nothing Like Ordinary

By Skip Sheffield

Slow Burn Theatre’s “Next To Normal” is an extraordinary production of an extraordinarily dramatic musical show. You can find out how extraordinary weekends through Nov. 2 at West Boca High School Performing Arts Theatre.
It takes a lot of nerve to take on the challenge of a Pulitzer Prize-winning modern musical about mental illness. In its fifth season Slow Burn has plenty of nerve, courage, chutzpa- call it what you will. Without first-rate, heartfelt performances backed by precision live musical accompaniment, enhanced by dynamic lighting (Lance Blank), appropriate suburban costumes (Rick Pena) and a serviceable, evocative set (Sean McClelland), “Next To Normal’ could easily be a train wreck. This train stays on the track and arrives on time after two and a half hours of sometimes gut-wrenching emotion, often leavened by dark, sardonic humor.
Patrick Fitzwater is the engineer or director of this hot-burning train and Manny Schwartzman is the musical director, or in old railway terms, the fireman.
The combustible fuel is a cast of six wildly talented singer-actors of various ages, sizes and attitude.
Brian Yorkey’s book is a parable about the incomprehensible sorrow of bi-polar disorders and the detrimental effects on all who try to comprehend and coexist. The story is propelled by Tom Kitt’s musical score in a variety of styles, from rock to schmaltz and waltz, wistful ballads and stand-up-and-be counted anthems.
Diana (Sharyn Peoples) is a forty-something mom who was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder 16 years ago; not too long after giving birth to a daughter Natalie (Anne Chamberlain), now 16 and quite resentful.
Slow Burn co-artistic director Matthew Korinko is Diana’s infinitely patient, frustrated husband, Dan Goodman. Jason Edelstein is Henry, a 17-year-old who has a serious crush on Natalie.
The song “Just Another Day” is the setup for another chaotic day in the profoundly dysfunctional Goodman household. It’s 3:30 a.m. and mom is up, sleepless. A son sneaks in late and is scolded. Natalie is up at 5:30 getting ready for school. Dad is getting ready for another day at work, which is often interrupted. The chorus is completed by a young man with an angel’s voice who we learn later is the son named Gabe (Bruno Vida).
In the course of the first act we will see mom undergo various treatments with her doctors (both played by Clay Cartland). Strange as it may seen, delusions can be funny when mom imagines her shrink is a rock star.
That’s probably enough plot for now. Anyone who has been touched by bipolar disorders will be familiar with all the painful outcomes, including the most drastic.
All of this high drama is sung beautifully in duets, trios, quartets and sextexts in razor-sharp harmonies. This is not Rodgers & Hammerstein and “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” It is music that makes you think about what may be unthinkable. If you can take it, you will be rewarded. You may even see the light.
Tickets are $40 adults, $35 senior citizens and $25 students. Call 866-811-4111 or go to

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