Technology with attitude

A Review of Arden Theatre Company's Production of "Next to Normal"

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Arden Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Mark Garvin.
Arden Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Mark Garvin.

I am deliriously happy that the Arden Theatre Company has officially kicked off their 25th Anniversary season. Over the past few years (and I’ve been attending shows regularly for a few now), I have never walked away from their shows unsatisfied. In fact, there have been several occasions where I’ve loved an Arden show so much that I went back multiple times to see it again. So it was with much anticipation that I waited for this new season, and the Arden’s production of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “Next to Normal.”

The show is about the Goodmans, “a suburban family grappling with the mother’s mental illness.” The plot description that the Arden provides is a bit vague, but that’s intentional. I truly believe that the less plot detail you know going in, the more powerful the show will be. Resist the urge to Wikipedia it, trust me. I could tell that many members of the audience on opening night were like me, and had not seen the show before, because it seemed like we all gasped in unison at a particular gut wrenching and revealing moment. Don’t deprive yourself of it by reading about the plot in advance. What I will say of “Next to Normal,” without giving away too much, is that provides the most intimate glimpse into a character’s psyche that I’ve experienced in theater.

The Arden’s “Next to Normal” cast is beyond phenomenal. For such an emotionally intense show, I can’t fathom how these actors go out there night after night, and pour their heart and souls into these severely damaged characters. The fact that they give such inspiring and heartfelt performances is a testament to their talent. Kristine Fraelich plays mother Diana Goodman with incredible sincerity and intensity (and her voice is one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever heard on the stage). Diana Goodman’s daughter, Natalie, is played by Rachel Camp, and when their voices harmonize, you will get goose bumps. James Barry plays husband and father Dan Goodman, and his performance will break your heart. Rounding out the cast are the equally magnificent Michael Doherty, Brian Hissong, and Robert Hager.

L-R: Brian Hissong as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden and James Barry as Dan in Arden Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Mark Garvin.
L-R: Brian Hissong as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden and James Barry as Dan in Arden Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Mark Garvin.

The talents of the production and creative teams for “Next to Normal” are just as impressive as those of the cast. The set for this show was almost a character in-of-itself. After seeing so many Arden shows, I am pleasantly surprised at how I’m always blown away by each set. Jorge Cousineau, the video and scenic designer (who also worked on past Arden show “Sunday in the Park with George”), has once again done a brilliant job of incorporating technology seamlessly into a stage production. It all worked together perfectly.

You do not want to miss this show. It is one of my new favorite Arden productions, and I think it will be one of yours too.

“Next to Normal” runs now through Sunday, November 4, 2012. Single ticket prices are $36-$48, with discounts available for seniors, students, military and educators (please inquire with the box office about group rates). Call the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, order online at www.ardentheatre.org, or visit the box office at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City, Philadelphia.

Post-show discussions will be held following performances on October 11 at 8pm, October 17 and 24 at 6:30 pm, October 21 and 28 at 2:00 pm. A special discussion will be held with the production team following the performance on October 12 at 8:00 pm in conjunction with Design Philadelphia.

L-R: Brian Hissong as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden, Robert Hager as Gabe, and Kristine Fraelich as Diana in Arden Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Mark Garvin.
L-R: Brian Hissong as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden, Robert Hager as Gabe, and Kristine Fraelich as Diana in Arden Theatre Company's production of Next to Normal. Photo by Mark Garvin.