Review: Nothing ‘normal’ happening at MVT
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
The idea of a Broadway musical about modern-day mental illness may sound improbable, but that’s exactly what Manoa Valley Theatre’s “next to normal” is all about.
What’s more, the show, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, is not only a Tony Award winner, it captured the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama as well.
‘next to normal’
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
» Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Valley Road
Alison Aldcroft (Diana) stars as a married woman who has been struggling with crippling mental illness for 16 years. Is a lifetime on medication the solution to her problems? What happens when they cause unpleasant side effects? Is hypnosis the answer?
And how does her family cope while she and her doctors search for the answers?
M. Wesley Watson (Dan) portrays her long-suffering husband who struggles to support the family and while accommodating his wife’s erratic behavior. Kyle Malis (Gabe) is the couple’s son and Kanani Rogers (Natalie) their neglected, overachieving daughter.
Watson, known as Miles Wesley in past productions, brings a strong voice and compelling acting to his performance here. One of his strongest scenes comes near the end of Act II, when his eyes convey a sequence of emotions without a word said.
Malis succeeds in combining vulnerability and menace in the pivotal role of the son.
Rogers is charming as the vulnerable young woman whose emotional well-being is destroyed by her mother’s illness. James Mares (Henry) strikes all the right notes playing the earnest young stoner who wants to be Natalie’s lifeline to normality.
Kalani Hicks (Dr. Madden) and David Bachler (Dr. Fine) complete the cast. Hicks, playing a doctor described as a “rock star,” has a great scene with Aldcroft — it’s one of several that leave the audience to discover where the lines lie between hallucination, imagination and reality.
With Aldcroft as the foundation of the story and its central voice, MVT’s production is loaded with talented singers.
Guest director Brett Harwood uses back-screen projections and imaginative lighting effects to suggest the experience of electroshock treatments and some of Diana’s other experiences. Video clips add impact elsewhere and some key performances are emphasized by being lit only from below. A wash of red light indicates the result of a suicide attempt.
Harwood’s technical crew meets the demands of this high-tech production — Andrew Doan (set design), Janine Myers (lighting design) and Sara Ward (props design) go well beyond the level of complexity usually required by musical shows. MVT veteran Jason Taglianetti (sound design) does excellent work ensuring the singers can be heard clearly and distinctly even in the most cacophonous numbers. The show would be a disaster if he fell short.
Megan Mount (musical director) and her musicians give the singers full-bodied support. However, like most contemporary musicals, the music serves primarily as vehicle for the characters’ emotions. and these are not songs you’ll go home humming.
Be warned, “next to normal” may be too close to life for people whose families have been touched by mental illness or a disintegrating marriage. Theater fans willing to face the challenges will find MVT’s production is worth their time.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.