Under the direction of Michael Jones, this musical doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. The show received a Tony Award in 2009 for best original score and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Stacey Logan plays Diana, who suffers from a wrenching mental illness. Her mannerisms and facial expressions convincingly convey someone ranging from not quite right to obviously insane.
Lane Fields is Dan, Diana’s husband, and his performance is a perfect complement. Fields has been the young leading man many times over the years, and now he has matured gracefully into middle-age roles, bringing experience and authenticity. Whether mental or physical, crippling illness affects the entire family, just as it does the person who’s sick.
The now upper-middle-class Dan and Diana married too young when she became pregnant with Gabe (Anderson Daniel). In her mind, Dan and the teenage Gabe vie for her affection and are rivals in caring for her.
Gabe always tries to prove that he cares about his mother more than anyone else does.
Diana’s illness seriously messes up Natalie (Jennifer Hiemstra), the couple’s talented, smart and way-overscheduled teenage daughter. Natalie worries that maybe she’ll go crazy someday.
Natalie attracts Henry (Jordan Justice), an industrious stoner who makes pipes out of whatever materials, or fruits, are available. He’s an “oldschool” pothead with a heart o’ gold — no faddish prescription drugs from the parents’ medicine cabinet for him.
In unusual roles for him, Matthew Alvin Brown plays Drs. Fine and Madden, Diana’s physicians. In a dark suit and looking serious, Brown’s bedside manner drips with cool professionalism.
Played on Amanda Foust’s versatile scenic design in steel and faux concrete, and under Art Whaley’s spare, but highly evocative lighting design, “Next to Normal” looked industrial. None of the characters ever seem comfortable, and that’s how the audience feels, grappling with the unanswerable questions that surround mental illness.