Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Next To Normal Anything But Normal At Kennedy Center

DC theatergoers are in for a real treat as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, Next to Normal, visited the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, bringing a tale of how mental illness takes a toll on a suburban family.

With the original Broadway director, Michael Greif, taking the helm in this inspiring and informative tear-jerking production, onlookers are sure to feel admonished at the deadly cycle of depression.

Leading the all-star six-person ensemble is Emmy and Tony Award nominee Brandon Victor Dixon (Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Shuffle Along) as Dan and Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner Rachel Bay Jones (Dear Evan Hansen) as Diana.

Dixon personifies a grief-stricken father whose avoidance tactics prove detrimental to his family. However, as the all-American Dad, he uses his broad register to capture audiences in a musical spell.

Jones delivers an illustrious vocal performance most comparable to Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease mixed with Stevie Nicks, showcasing a dynamic range from whimsical ballads to heartfelt songs during her character’s spurts of mania.  

Dan and Diana have been married for more than 16 years and have battled varying degrees of mental illness within their family. Though their time together is riddled with trauma, their love nearly trounces every setback.

The couple is an eccentric and quirky pair that uses coarse language that proves refreshingly candor. Continuous sexual innuendos, some quite literal, are expressed creating a necessitated comedic cloud of relief.

Set to contemporary music, Next to Normal is fresh, daring and required viewing. Similar to that of the Broadway hit RENT (also directed by Greif), this performance splendidly uses ballads and rock music to hone the dark truths of psychosis.

Several elements are done right, beyond the perfectly executed score and vocal prowess. But I must say, the five-member band, optimally positioned behind the two-level scaffolding, will cause you to leave the theater exhausted from the excessive foot patting, body-rocking music that earned the Tony Award for Best Original Score.

Filled with a multitude of timely social themes, Brian Yorkey’s masterpiece will have you questioning your stance on how to best treat patients coping with bipolar disorder and more.

Several avenues are considered to offset the symptoms brought on by trauma but at what cost? Big pharma, shock therapy and hypnotherapy are all referenced during the nearly 2 hour and 20 min production, all introducing another layer of complexity to an already crowded experience.

As Diana visit with her doctor, a cascade of pills is administered to counteract the constant cycle of depression and anxiety. To no surprise, this path to healing is quite turbulent, which marks a downward spiral leading to rock-bottom, where only enlightenment can be gained with hope for a better tomorrow.

To best prepare for the emotional journey that is Next to Normal, pack some tissue. Between the music, artistic emoting and the general plot, sniffling will surely be uncontrollable during this viewing experience. 

Next to Normal is showing through Monday February 3 at the Kennedy Center. Tickets are $79-$189 and can be purchased here.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; (202) 467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

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Langford Wiggins

Langford Wiggins is the CEO and founder of LANCAR Ink, a nonprofit news outlet that produces and distributes distinctly diverse multimedia content created by multicultural entry-level and matriculating journalists to news outlets, showcasing the impact of charitable initiatives, programs, and services aiding a plethora of communities. His personal multimedia works have appeared in five different languages and five countries on Voice of America and TheRoot.com.