Urban CNY Review – Syracuse Stage’s Next to Normal: A Riveting Rock Musical with a Psychological Message for the Soul

This is a story about an entire family coping with mental illness. The character Diane is at the center of the play, a wife and mother whose struggles with bipolar disorder impact her family. Before your eyes unfolds a rock/pop musical, but at its center is a poignant family drama.

Next to Normal joins a distinguished list of only 9 musicals awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Being number eight, was recently joined by the Broadway Hit, Hamilton.

According to the National Institute of Health, Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans or about 2.6% of the U.S. population age 18 and older every year. And for this condition many people are on some type of medication. Which ones work? The music score crackles with references to these medications and the ease at which they’re dispensed.  Paxil, Xanax, and others… perhaps this time they’ll work?  This play is not predictable, just as psychotic breakdowns aren’t scheduled events.

What do Doctors prescribe for the brain, correct the dread that follows a sufferer of these psychological maladies?

Broadway veteran Judy McLane leads the cast as Diane, a mother whose struggles become clear as the play focuses on her symptoms. McLane’s transformation into this multi-dimensional character is mesmerizing as she has the task of portraying episodic symptoms of her condition. When it’s not her soaring vocals carrying the story, it’s McLane’s gestures, ever so slight that convey the pain trapped inside her.

New York actor Glenn Seven Allen portrays Diane’s husband Dan, the loving caregiving husband and father. Provided the narrative of a frustrated husband who only wants the woman he fell in love with years ago to return to her brain.

The couple’s daughter (Natalie) played by Sara Masterson, a high school senior trying to navigate her way through her mother’s illness and her own seemingly chaotic life. Masterson guides her character from the multi-talented nerd, to a young woman coming of age with the prospect of finding love, only to have the specter of mental illness dangling over her, perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

Natalie’s boyfriend (Henry) is played by Taylor Fauntleroy. Henry is crucial to the play because, it was he who had self-imposed limitations.  Next to Normal, unveiled more questions than answers about prescription medications and marijuana; the writers put everything on the table.

Syracuse Stage Artistic Director Robert Hupp

As Syracuse Stage Artistic Director Robert Hupp explained “‘Next to Normal’ is a story of how a smart and insightful wife and mother wrestles with inescapable mental illness and how that illness affects her caregiving husband and her teenaged daughter”

Next to Normal invites the theatergoer on a rock infused musical journey to the center of a dysfunctional family’s mind.  As the audience left the theater, lobby conversations ensued, as people were anxious to share what they’d just seen. The Syracuse Stage production of Next to Normal, provocative theater at its best. Director Robert Hupp takes you on a journey so visual, you can interpret the play by just watching the actors move. Don’t miss this important play at Syracuse Stage, Next to Normal, runs through February 11th.