There are some beautiful things happening in Medina right now. One of them is the CAMEO Production of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical Next to Normal. This musical examines a family in crisis, as they experience mental issues that permeate and destroy a typical “normal” family. From the outside, a picturesque family portrait, on the inside, a turbulent bi-polar cloud of pain.
What is remarkable about this production is the production design. Director Colin McCord, and his talented designers, have decided to set this piece in the round. A truly original and dynamic choice, seeing that there has been 100 productions of Next to Normal over the last few years. This is a welcome visual. Along with set design, comes a brilliant Lighting and Scenic Design from Michael Sferro, Ed Schmuhl and Dale Seeds. As you sit awaiting the impending destruction ahead, you are met with a floor design that is awash in a deep blue. Pictures on the floor representing not fully formed faces. The combination transports you to a Picasso Blue Period that is fabulous. Most of the audience may not even know they are already being transported. Blinds surround the main stage area, representing the ability to see through or close off emotions, and our ability to deal with them.
Lights up and we meet Diana ( a stunning Kirsten Forshew). Her performance is wonderful, and she meets the demands of the vocal power necessary to tell this fractured tale with confidence. There is nothing better than a stirring and fabulous belt. At the start of Act Two, Forshew has self-actualized into a force of nature. Tucker Boggs, as Gabe, has one of the most amazing voices I have heard in a long time. He turned in a solid performance, and his vocal versatility will provide quite a career for him. His dramatic unexpected entrances were played to perfection. Dan Polk, as Dan, no, that is the truth, brings a visceral vulnerability. He is aided by strong vocals and a likable presence. And, when he is seated in his chair at the end, you must be a zombie if your heart is not aching for him. Adam Vigneault brings his doctoral charm in full swag as Doctor Madden. A reserved textured performance that is certainly a needed balance to the characters swirling around him.
But when it comes to totally nailing a character and providing a fully fleshed out performance, my accolades go to the impressive performance of Meredith Stout as Natalie. Every part of this actors performance was fantastic. From the moment she enters, every scene, every vocal, she is emulating everything that is happening within her, and around her. She is a complete stand out. And her partner in crime, Benson H. Anderson, brings his own fierce characterization to the psychotic dance floor. His understated performance was grand. His relationship with Natalie was spot on. His voice divine. The two of them were incredibly rewarding to watch, and remember.
This is a good production. As a cast, when they are all on and every burner is fired up, it is magic. The closing song Light was incredible and a beautiful vocal event. But there are things that could have elevated this production to another level.
When the show began, and Diana’s mic was off, I wanted to throw a shoe through one of the blinds. This can’t happen. It takes minutes to recover from that, and to be honest, I didn’t even know she had a fantastic voice until the song I Miss The Mountains, because her softer notes and dialogue couldn’t be heard.
There are no musical vamps written in this show. The scene changes should be a break neck speed, so there is no emotional rest. Especially in Act One, it felt like the applause was being led during unneeded black outs, instead of fade outs and ups. And when the stage crew member came out and took the table off out of nowhere, there went my other shoe. Why? Actors did every change before and after that. The stakes have to be higher for everyone involved. Except for Stout and Anderson, I felt everyone could have gone deeper. Diction is imperative in the round. Also, when Polk sang the words Hooray, it reminded me that every word doesn’t have to be sung like a concert. Also, physically lighten up. Lighten up and be medicated. That is the best advice I ever got.
Incredibly talented Musical Director Tom Bonezzi leads a fine orchestra to bring this tale to light. Sometimes muffled by Sound balance issues, he leads a fierce group of young musicians.
Katie Peyton Costumed to perfection. Allen Redmon provided the Sound Design.
I say Bravo for CAMEO for tackling this immense musical journey. I feel it takes your theatre to another level, and for that, you should be very, very proud. Mr. McCord should be proud as well. For one so young to tackle this beast. But also, remember, to push your actors as far as you possibly can. When you get to the edge of a cliff, it is the edge, but when you look up, the view is amazing.
CSA – Kevin
Photo Credit: Steve Sedlock
$15-$20 General Admission
The Medina Performing Arts Center
851 Weymouth Road
Medina, OH 44256