ashland.news
May 26, 2024

Review: ‘Next to Normal’ soars at the Camelot

Natalie (Marin Alexis), right, confronts her mother (Rebecca K. Campbell) while her dad (Zach Virden) looks on in "Next to Normal," a contemporary musical playing through April 21 at Camelot Theatre in Talent. Brian O'Connor photo
April 4, 2024

Exceptional vocal performances carry the poignant story of a family grappling with mental illness

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

Camelot Theatre’s “Next to Normal” is not your typical feel-good musical. It’s feel-everything. And one of the best offerings among the company’s recent string of excellent productions.

It opened March 28 and will play through April 21 in the 166-seat theater in downtown Talent at 101 Talent Avenue.

Joey Larimer plays Gabe, the dead son who haunts the psyche of his bipolar mother, Diana, played by Rebecca K. Campbell. Brian O’Connor photo

With book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, this contemporary musical delves into the complexities of a suburban family grappling with mental illness.

Bipolar disorder

The story revolves around Diana (Rebecca K. Campbell), a mother struggling with bipolar disorder, and the impact it has on her relationships with her husband, Dan (Zach Virden), and their teenage daughter, Natalie (Marin Alexis).

As Diana seeks treatment, the family confronts issues of grief, loss and the search for normalcy amid turmoil.

The musical explores themes of love, acceptance, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of mental health challenges.

A key character is Gabe (Joey Larimer), Diana and Dan’s deceased son, who haunts Diana’s psyche. Others include Henry (Austin Kelly), Natalie’s boyfriend, who provides support and stability amid the chaos. And Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine are played by Rigo Jimenez.

Alexis Marin makes her Rogue Valley debut at Camelot Theatre in a mesmerizing portrayal of Natalie, the daughter of a bipolar mother in “Next to Normal.” Brian O’Connor photo
Pulitzer Prize winner

The play won a 2009 Tony Award for best original score and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Sensitively directed by Alex Boyles, it is brought to life by Camelot’s excellent cast of six. Campbell gives a memorable central performance and 19-year-old Alexis makes a stunning Rogue Valley debut.

There is spoken dialogue, but much of the story is advanced by song (think “Evita”). Perfectly integrated recorded tracks are used to provide the musical accompaniment for the production.

Given that the musical is about a woman grappling with a chronic mental illness, one might expect it to be grim. But there is humor, panache, even ebullience in the mix — from the flirty number about Diana’s pill regimen to a funny song in which her husband desperately tries to convince himself that everything will be okay.

Rock opera moments

Larimer excels as the haunting deceased son, possessing a pitch-perfect voice and an impressive vocal range. There are rock opera moments in his performance.

The audience can feel the pain and anguish of these troubled characters, but also their empathy and hope. It may even be a little cathartic for those who have endured difficult emotional journeys of their own.

As the characters struggle with their own demons, confront painful truths, and ultimately learn to cope with the challenges they face, we care about what happens to them, thanks to strong performances by the talented ensemble on stage.

After undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, Diana (Rebecca K. Campbell) goes through a box of old photos with husband Dan (Zach Virden) to see if her memory can be jogged. Brian O’Connor photo

The playwright’s thin subplot, in which the daughter, Natalie, self-medicates to cope with what’s happening in her family, is more than compensated by a superb performance from Alexis.

The second act, which could seem a bit overlong with a lesser cast, has the pace and energy to keep the audience engaged.

Scenic designer Oliver Quant’s spare set serves the action on stage effectively. Lighting designer Evan Carbone’s work helps shape and enhance the environment.

The music tracks are expertly produced and the cast delivers the musical’s vocals with skill and passion.

Ultimately, “Next to Normal” emphasizes the importance of seeking help, destigmatizing mental illness, and finding hope and healing, even in the midst of darkness.

Don’t miss this exceptional production. It will touch your heart and broaden your perspective.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to camelottheatre.org.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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Jim

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