How does one create a musical with the theme of “Bi-polar disorder”? Brian Yorkey’s “Next To Normal” with music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Yorkey, does just that. It is a riveting “chamber musical” that won three Tony awards in 2009 and the Pulitzer prize for its look at a modern family struggling with this problem. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “chamber musical”, I guess the best explanation would be that the songs and lyrics are created to move the action of the story. You have very little dialogue, and the story is propelled by the music, which by the way, will not be hummed on your way home. The last time this show was done in our area was the spectacular production at Drury Lane Oakbrook, and when I learned that MadKap Productions was going to present this show on the tiny stage at the Skokie Theatre, I thought to myself that they may have bitten off much more than they could possibly chew. My hat is off to Producer Wendy Kaplan and her Director Andrew Park for bringing the true intimacy of this story to this newly remodeled venue in “downtown” Skokie.
For those who are unfamiliar with this theater, it was, back in the day, the only movie house in Skokie. Located at 7924 Lincoln Avenue (where Lincoln meets Oakton), it was closed for some time and over the last two years, since MadKap took over management (Ms Kaplan and Wayne Mell), we have seen concerts and plays as well as classes for the younger actors on the rise. Great work that shows the heart and soul of those involved. For this production, they have opted to have the musicians on stage led by Gary Powell, who along with his three musicians , Jeff Poindexter, Scott Sedlacek and Dylan Frank truly make beautiful music together. In front of the musicians are risers that constitute the set (Pat Henderson), allowing us to see different locations with simple maneuvers and pieces.
The story is one that has some secrets, which I will not divulge. Our family is headed by Dan (a solid performance by the very able Brian Zealand) and his wife, Diana (Whitney Morse does a spectacular job and has a vocal range that is wonderful). They have a daughter, Natalie (deftly handled by Molly LeCaptain). I will tell you that we meet their son, Gabe (a dynamic character developed by Jordan Grzybowski-what a voice), who we later learn is not what or who we think him to be. I will not go past this point so as to keep the story that is told intact. The other cast members in the production are Christopher Selefski as Henry, Natalie’s boy friend and Nick Shoda who takes on two roles as the Doctors who treat Diana.
That being said, Diana is the Bi-Polar figure in this story. She is the one that must deal with mental illness issues and the past that has brought this once happy family to where they are. Questions arise as the play progresses, such as were they ever really happy? Did Diana and Dan really fall in love or did they marry because Diana became pregnant? This two and a half hour musical containing 38 musical pieces (can’t call them all songs) with an intermission, is a study in feelings, asking us to dig deep into our own feelings so that we can truly re-focus on what is important in our own lives. Each audience member will walk out of the theater feeling a bit different from the person who sat next to them. They might be the normal one, or then again, they might be “Next To Normal”. While this is serious subject matter, it is handled very well with a cast that truly makes this a wonderful experience for each and every patron.
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Wednesday, 9/16 at 1:30 p.m.
This is a General Admission, no reserved seats at $38, seniors $33 and students $28. To order your seats call 847-677-7761
To learn more about the theater and its upcoming events and productions, visit www.SkokieTheatre.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Next to Normal”
There is plenty of free parking in the area
Many of you may be aware of an organization called Rebecca’s Dream. They are preparing for their annual fundraiser . More information is available at www.rebeccasdream.org
In 2005 Rebecca Lynn Cutler, a journalist succumbed to depression and Bi-Polar Disorder at age 30 and took her own life. Rebecca’s Dream is an organization built to make youngsters aware of the problems and to save others from doing likewise.