By Tim Collins
The first production of the 2016/17 season at Langham Court Theatre is being described as an emotionally vivid piece of theatre with a unique contradiction at its core.
The production of Next to Normal is built around an award winning musical score (38 numbers in all), yet at its heart, the plot is an extremely intimate family story, perfectly adapting to the more informal setting at the theatre.
Director Greg Perry has managed to stage a rock musical in a facility never designed for a musical production of this scope, all the while employing a cast of actors who understand and meet the challenges of a close relationship with the audience. He’s also artfully managed the 14 locations within the play in such a way that the action continues to flow, even as it moves from place to place, all on a single set.
The story is about Diana Goodman and her family. They seem normal enough; dad’s an architect, the teenage children are typically wise-cracking kids, and mom rushes about trying to keep the family organized.
Mom also suffers from bipolar depressive disorder, complete with delusional episodes. The illness has affected her family in profound ways, with each character facing the challenges differently. As her condition worsens and she seeks professional help, new challenges are introduced and each character has to cope with those challenges in their own terms.
“This is without a doubt the most challenging role I’ve ever undertaken,” said Fran Bitoni, who plays Goodman. “It’s a topic that is so difficult, but one that resonates with almost everyone. We’ve all known someone with a mental illness of some kind — a family member, a friend, a co-worker — and this play humanizes the illness. It makes us reconsider our preconceptions about mental illness…strips it of the stigma and humanizes it as just another illness.”
It’s a tough topic but, according to Perry, this production manages to deliver repeated emotional blows with an artful and sympathetic, poignant and hopeful portrayal of mental illness and its impact both on individuals and their families.
Next to Normal, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt was nominated for 11 2009 Tony Awards and won three, including best rriginal score and best orchestration. It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.
“The team at Langham Court have been an absolute joy,” said Perry. “They manage to mix wit with raw human emotion to bring out the nuances and richness the playwrights have written into the story. It’s a challenging production, but this cast has risen to the task. In the end, it’s a story of hope.”
Next to Normal runs until Oct. 15. For more information visit langhamtheatre.ca.