Hartford based Theatre Works produces massive musical “Next to Normal”

Christiane Noll and David Harris in TheatreWorks musical, "Next to Normal".  (photo from TheatreWorks) 

Christiane Noll and David Harris in TheatreWorks musical, "Next to Normal".  (photo from TheatreWorks) 

The intimate space of TheatreWorks in Hartford may seem to be a challenge for a musical as large as “Next to Normal” at first glance, yet the cast and creatives of the production, directed by Rob Ruggiero, made the show look like it was always meant for such a space.

“Next to Normal,” with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkley, deals with the extent of a family’s ability to support each other in the most difficult phases of their lives.

Diana Goodman (Christiane Noll) is a mother struggling with depression and bipolar disorder. A traumatic incident in her and her husband Dan’s (David Harris) life lays the framework for a poignant tale of grief, memory and a family’s unbreakable connection that carries them through day after day.

Diana’s daughter Natalie (Maya Keleher) is a typical teenager who takes on a lot of responsibility for someone of her age. The relationship between Natalie and her mother is strained and lacking in empathy, as Natalie herself is buried in her own life’s demands and struggles to cope with her mother. She does find some degree comfort and normalcy that she craves when she meets Henry (Nick Sacks), a quirky and laid back person who shares a passion for music like Natalie and the two fall in love.

The musical challenges pre-conceived stigmas about individuals with mental disorders, draping the ideas with comedy and rock music. Director Rob Ruggiero says “this Tony-winning score shapes a raw, honest story of people experiencing longing, love, pain, confusion, loss and hope.”

The scenic elements of the production by set designer Wilson Chin communicate the idea of a not so normal family pushed to the edge of their wellbeing through the theatrical use of a massive turntable and moving walls. In a space as tight as TheatreWorks it may be tough to imagine: yet precise staging and crisp transitions provided a dramatic versatility necessary to seamlessly tell the story of the Goodman family that the musical demands.

In tune with the rock music, lighting designer John Lasiter, assisted by University of Connecticut design and technical theatre alumnae Lindsay Duvall, enforced the musical’s themes with moving lights and colors one might see at a rock show.

The control and precision from both the lighting and the set made clear moments of the character’s internal strife, their reflections and their relationships with one another. At many moments the lighting also enhanced hilarious musical interludes that characterized the comedic delusions of Diana. In tandem with the scenic elements, the story and all its locations are clearly portrayed to provide a narrative that is smooth, concise and entertaining.

“Next to Normal” will run until May 7, having received an extension. For those seeking information about the performance and tickets, one may call 860-527-7838, or visit theatreworkshartford.org.


Matthew Gilbert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu.