It’s such a pity this show doesn’t have a longer run. Surely, if word got out
about the quality of the production, it would be able to continue to draw
audiences. Last night, my fellow audience members, even though they only
half-filled the theater, jumped to their feet in applause at the end. And well
they might because it was an excellent show.
First, there was the music.
It’s accurate to describe Next to Normal as a rock opera, and the 6-piece
band (which included a violin and cello) definitely rocked under the direction
of David Blanchard. The highlight, though, was the professional-quality singing
of the 6-member cast. The songs themselves were eminently listenable, and I
found myself humming tunes during the intermission and as I left the theater.
It’s worth noting that a lot of the singing was in duets or occasionally larger
ensembles, and at these spots the blend of the voices gave a satisfying richness
to whatever emotion was being conveyed. Besides this, some of the numbers were
real show-stoppers that I’d love to see again and again.
importantly, the acting was top-notch. I’ve seen nearly all these people perform
before, but this was easily among the best acting (and singing) that I’ve
witnessed from each of them. The story requires a wide emotional range and a lot
of nuance – and they gave it. The influence of the director can be seen in the
acting, but the staging itself was inspired. Despite the sparseness of props and
set, this production was a visual feast: the rich crafting of each scene drew us
audience members into the action and added to the effectiveness of the acting
and singing. Stand Out Talent was fortunate to have LA-based Danny Gurwin to
direct this show.
With a warning that it wouldn’t be suitable for
children under 13, and that it would deal with dark themes of mental illness,
drug abuse, etc., I fear some potential audience members may have stayed away.
What a mistake. Though it deals with some serious themes, there is a lot of joy
and good feeling in this story, and it is so substantial that it’s easy to see
why it was a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner. Hats off to Stand Out Talent for
tackling it and delivering such a high-quality show