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Next to Normal
a Musical
by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (words)

COMPANY : Wallace Buice Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Windmill Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5446

SHOWING : February 08, 2019 - February 24, 2019



NEXT TO NORMAL explores how one suburban household copes with family crisis and mental illness. Winner of three 2009 Tony Awards -- including Best Musical Score -- and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, NEXT TO NORMAL was also chosen as "one of the year’s best ten shows" by critics around the country including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, & The New York Times.

Director Taylor Buice
Gabe Haden Rider
Dan Bryant Smith
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


A Wall of Sound
by playgoer
Monday, February 18, 2019
Let’s face facts: this production of "Next to Normal" is a vanity production. It has been underwritten by Lisa Reich, who plays the female lead, and her husband Adam LeBow, who plays a couple of doctors. That’s not to say that this is a worthless production -- neither is without talent, and they have surrounded themselves with some wonderful performers. Taylor Buice has directed a creditable production of "Next to Normal" for his new theatre company.

The set, designed by Zack Vandever, is on the massive side, with a second-story platform reaching completely across the playing space. While there are staircases at either side, there are no walls; instead, raw framing suggests the transition between different rooms. On the first floor, props and rolling chairs are recessed on stage left and the six-piece band is housed stage right. The second floor features a tiny side piece that pulls out to suggest a keyboard, very effectively used in a college piano practice room scene. Blocking makes good use of the space, with action moving fluidly from location to location. Unfortunately, Tara O’Neill’s lighting doesn’t illuminate all these locations clearly, with actors speaking or singing lines in semi-gloom before sometimes having a little light thrown on them.

Harry N. Haines’ music direction gets good vocal performances out of the cast and excellent orchestral sounds from the band, but Amy Levin’s sound blends them together into a wall of sound. When the band is playing at full blast and all the singers are blasting out individual vocal lines, it’s near cacophony. This is a complicated score, but the cast navigates it with virtuosity.

The storyline concerns a family dealing with mental illness and its pharmacological implications. We have a mother (Ms. Reich), a father (Bryant Smith), a daughter (Maggie Salley), and a son (Haden Rider). Secondary characters consist of two doctors (both ably played by Mr. LeBow) and the daughter’s boyfriend (played engagingly by Ben Fierke).

Messrs. Smith and Rider have sterling credentials in professional Atlanta theatre, and their performances here bolster their reputations. Ms. Salley is equally excellent. All three do fine work when their character is in the focus, but do equally well in reacting to others. Ms. Reich, on the other hand, has a resting expression on her face that is a semi-sneer, and that resolves into a full-fledged sneer when her character gets worked up. There’s a lack of nuance in her performance that makes it clear that she’s not up to the acting demands of her role, although vocally she’s fine. This is made crystal-clear in the scene where she leaves her husband, which seems to come from out of the blue. When this is almost immediately followed by a very touching scene between father and son, the lack of balance in the cast is underscored. The musical depends upon the main female character being someone we care about, and that’s not the case here.

Wallace Buice Theatre Company is making a bit of noise on the Atlanta theatre scene. It’s put on a couple of well-received productions of relatively recent musicals and may be poised to do others in the future. This one, though, tends to be a disappointment, despite some fine, professional elements. Staging is good. Music is well-played and well-sung. With a different female lead front and center, "Next to Normal" could have been wonderful. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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