Next to Normal is a rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. Its story concerns a mother who struggles a bipolar disorder. It examines the effect that her illness, and the attempts to alleviate it, have on her family. The musical also addresses such issues as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, and ethics in modern psychiatry.  The musical won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the eighth musical in history to receive the honor.

Director Ian Atwood has assembled a fine group of artists to inhabit this world. He also provided the set design, construction, light and sound design, which is much applauded as all of those elements hold up well.

in the role of Diana Goodman, any actress that plays this pivotal role must find herself in a state of self-actualization. The role demands everything. And I am thrilled to report that Dawn Sniadak Yamokoski delivers on every level. Her vocals soar both in musicality and depth. Her arc is very honest, and thus, she carries us through a most brilliant performance. The role of Dan Goodman is handled beautifully by Michael Snider. He comes across as a truly loving man, trapped in a world where he is not in control, but our of pure love, he exhausts every avenue he comes across to save his wife from being trapped inside her psychotic and tortured brain. His scene at the end where Snider is sitting at a table realizing the decision that his wife has made, is one of the most honest moments I have ever seen Snider create.

Isabel Billinghurst as daughter Natalie Goodman, and her boyfriend Henry played by Michael Knobloch, shine brightly in the production. Billinghurst has a beautiful and powerful voice, and does a great job connecting with her own journey. She shows us a path of angst and redemption, through very honest choices. I have never seen Billinghurst perform, and I am glad I did. She is a treasure. Knobloch turns is a pitch perfect performance. His characterization is supremely on point. His voice is beautiful, caring and aptly connecting with his emotions at all time. Great performance. Dan Hoy rocks. As Gabriel “Gabe” Goodman, Hoy created a haunting presence which is well served by a powerful voice, and tenor notes that leave an impressive trail of emotion. Serving up a gigawatt smile and venerable personae, Hoy becomes the apt focus of the joy and destruction of this family. Well done. This is also the first time I heard Hoy sing, and it was a tremendous pleasure to hear that voice.

The production also offers a rare treat for BTOTS audiences with the presence of Equity Actor extraordinaire, Dan Folino*, as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. Dr. Fine is prescribing prescriptions for Diana. Fine diagnoses Diana as bipolar depressive with delusional episodes. Although she’s been medicated unsuccessfully for sixteen years, Doctor Fine continues to adjust her medications over the visits until Diana says that she doesn’t feel anything–at which point he declares her stable. However, this interpretation of Dr. Fine, portrayed and edited by Folino and Director Atwood, is puzzling. The doctor is played like a love child of Mr. Limpet, Jerry Lewis, and Ed Grimley. It is SO over the top that it actually incredibly distracting, and hurts the integrity of the show. I have no idea why this interpretation is in the show. Because it shouldnt be. As Dr. Madden, Folino settles down into a more reality based character, dons a suit, and literally lets down his hair to create a great presence for a caring doctor trying to help. His delivery is subdued but pointed with honestly. However, the performance is briefly interrupted when Folino hands Dan Goodman a business card to help him get his own needed help, but the card that is clearly held up to the audience, is a business card from the Beck Center for the Arts. His shining moments come when Dr. Madden morphs into a rock star, and that is a beautiful and funny thing to behold.

There is one other moment that is confusing. And that comes when Gabe and Diana are singing center stage. There faces are incredibly close, too close. And then Gabe moves in to hug Diana, but it looks like he is kissing her neck. It is a bizarre moment, and many members of the audience, who were seeing it for the first time, asked if Diana and Gabe were sleeping together.

I thought the orchestra kicked ass. A tight and musical orchestra conducted by Matthew Grittner. Great Sound and full-bodied treatment of the score. (The orchestra is open to the audience, so watching a musician watch the show and audience can be distracting)

The overall effect is a good night of theatre. Beautiful voices, and some wonderful break-through performances.

Kevin Kelly

Thru – May 15
7:30pm Fridays
7:30pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays
$14 Reserved Seating
(440) 526-3443

Brecksville Theatre on the Square
49 Public Square
Brecksville, OH, 44141