The Toll Mental Illness Takes
A musical about mental illness? With a rock music score? Would that work?
Yes, it does, very well. Next to Normal, the 2009 Tony winning musical, tells about the effect of mental illness on a family. Now on stage at the CAA Theatre in Toronto, Next to Normal has a stellar cast bringing the characters to life. I had the pleasure of seeing it with the original cast on Broadway, and this Toronto cast compares favourably.
This is a story that cannot be revealed for fear of spoiling the plot. There’s a family of two parents, a son and a daughter – one of them is bipolar with episodes of psychosis and delusions. There are some surprise twists in the plot, but suffice it to say, mental illness of one individual has a distressing effect on the entire family.
It’s a gut-wrenching story, and the excellent performances of all cast members take you along on their emotional trip. This is a musical where more of the story is told by song than by talking. So, just the right voices are needed to handle the big belting rock numbers and the heartbreaking ballads.
The cast – Ma-Anne Dionisio as Diana, the mother; Troy Adams as Dan, the father; Brandon Antonio as Gabe, the son; Stephanie Sy as Natalie, the daughter; Nathan Carroll as her boyfriend Henry; and Louise Pitre as the two doctors – all have the necessary singing talent. The lyrics and tunes stay with you long after the show.
A minimal set ensures you concentrate on the actors and their songs. A spiral staircase and a few chairs moving around the stage take the action from home to school to doctor’s office to hospital.
There were some problems on opening night with mics being turned on too late. The first words a character spoke or sang were frequently missed. This will no doubt be corrected immediately.
The mania and depression of bipolar disorder is presented well in this musical. It has the benefit of getting people to actually talk about mental illness. It may also help those with mental illness to see themselves on stage – to let them know they are not alone. But whether or not you have been touched by mental illness, Next to Normal offers a compelling plot, well presented by very talented Canadian musical theatre professionals. As the show draws to a close, the anguished song “I am the One” has a final heartbreaking message:
“I am the one who knows you
I am the one who cares
I am the one who’s always been there
I am the one who’s helped you
And if you think that I just don’t give a damn
Then you just don’t know who I am”
Next to Normal continues with eight shows a week at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic), 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario until May 19. Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Photo: Louise Pitre as Doctor Madden and Ma-Anne Dionisio as Diana. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
Next to Normal
Book and Lyrics by Tom Kitt
Music by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Philip Akin
Musical staging by Tracey Flye
Musical Director Lily Ling
Performed by Troy Adams, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Louise Pitre, Brandon Antonio, Stephanie Sy, Nathan Carroll
Produced by The Musical Stage Co. and David Mirvish
CAA Theatre, Yonge Street, Toronto
May 1 to May 19, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson