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  • Pamela Froman

Next to Normal


Mental illness is a delicate subject at the best of times, and Tony-winning play Next to Normal explores it with grace and stunning beauty in the production at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.

This “feel everything” American rock musical brings us into the lives of a family in crisis. The story centers around a mom who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that her illness and its management have had on her family.

Diana, played with true gorgeousness by Mazie Rudolph, is a mother whose grief has translated into hallucinations, depression and manic behavior. We truly gain a sense of the struggle she faces on a day to day basis as we see go through the frustrations of doctors, pills and even electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Songs like “My Psychopharmacologist and I” bring this into focus. Diana's doctors – Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine – are gracefully portrayed by Craig Sherman.

Rudolph has performed in productions including Little Women and Les Miserables and handles this most difficult role with tenacity and feeling. The never ending spiral of Diana's emotional health is a ride we go on – albeit unwillingly.

Dan is Diana's husband, played by Nick Newkirk. Here is a man who is dealt a mixed bag of love, loyalty, loss and disappointment. Newkirk lets us into his character's frustrations: The more he tries to do everything he can to spare his family more pain, the more the pain escalates. Newkirk has a wide range of versatility, reprising his role as Dan from the 2014 Ventura County production, and having previously played roles such as Glen in The Wedding Singer.

Daughter Natalie, performed by Kayley Stallings, is in a vortex of confusion and angst due to her mother's deteriorating condition. Played with grace and talent, Stallings helps us understand how a teenager is affected by the pain and loss of her parents. You can feel alone even when you are surrounded by people, and Stallings' performance reflects that amazingly.

Natalie is supported by her boyfriend Henry, played by Andrew Allen. The two of them show their chemistry in songs like “Perfect For You.” Sometimes your peers can help in the most difficult of situations. Sometimes they can't. But we are rooting for this relationship!

Trevor March plays Gabe, the son of Diana and Dan who we discover is not all he seems to be. March's singing was astounding and a great way to open up the character! Just watching him sing “I'm Alive” is a spotlight into the role. He has performed in musicals including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Beauty and the Beast.

In addition to winning three Tonys, Next to Normal also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming the eighth musical in history to receive the honor. Next to Normal has been called one of the best musicals of the 21st century and its soundtrack one of the best original soundtracks in a musical due to its graceful handling of dark, and complex subject matter and its brutally honest exploration of what pain can mean. This production is not to be missed – it is truly moving.

Next to Normal runs through May 27 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, located at 3050 E Los Angeles Ave in Simi Valley. To purchase tickets call the Box Office at (805) 583-7905 or log onto www.simi-arts.org

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