Find Us

An Unforgettable Production of Next to Normal at Round House Theatre

An Unforgettable Production of Next to Normal at Round House Theatre

Next to Normal
Round House Theatre
Jordan Wright
February 6, 2024
Special to The Zebra

The cast of Next to Normal at Round House Theatre (Photo by Margot Schulman)

How do you make a story about a bi-polar mother having a nervous breakdown palatable to musical theatre audiences? First, you make the characters poignantly identifiable – Dan (Kevin S. McAllister), a loving husband and father devoted to keeping his family intact; Natalie (Sophia Early), their angsty teenage daughter living in the shadow of her dead baby brother, Gabe, and fighting her own demons; Henry (Ben Clark), her boyfriend committed to seeing her through her pain; and Gabe (Lucas Hinds Babcock), the ghost of the dead child who haunts Diana in her darkest moments. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal with its deeply emotional story might seem highly unlikely to resonate with theatregoers, but it truly does. Thanks in large part to the unforgettably lush score by composer Tom Kitt with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the show is impossible to resist.

Lucas Hinds Babcock (Gabe) and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Diana) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Ignoring the needs of her family, Diana (Tracy Lynn Olivera) is prescribed more and more pills to dull the memory of the loss of her child and heal her break with reality. Her struggle to keep it all together for the sake of her family, is thwarted by Gabe’s constant demands to be remembered. In the song, “I’m Alive”, he tells his mother he must never be forgotten.

As Diana descends into a manic state in a fog of despair from a plethora pills, she begins to question the meds, the therapy, and even her psychiatrist, Doctor Madden (Calvin McCullough), whom she pictures as a rock star – one of the funnier bits.  “What happens if the break was not in my mind or my blood, but in my soul,” she asks Dan after the constant “hauntings” by Gabe. Dan, struggling to hold the family and their tenuous marriage together, wonders aloud, “Why would you want to remember the things that hurt you?” In her manic state these questions are impossible to contemplate… and even more difficult to explain.

Kevin S. McAllister (Dan), Sophia Early (Natalie), and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Diana) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Thirty-six numbers turbo-charge this sing-through with joy, pathos, passion and anguish too. The cast is superb – their voices exquisitely blended and nuanced. Olivera is a well-known, well-respected commodity in area theaters and here her subtly powerful performance is balanced beautifully – shining but not outshining this remarkable ensemble. Audiences will be moved by McCallister’s rich baritone and commanding presence as the father who must keep the family from falling apart at the seams. A surprise casting is the clearly up and coming young actor, Lucas Babcock, as Gabe’s ghost. His voice and performance will tear your heart out. It stopped me in my tracks. This is a big role – physically and emotionally demanding and I’m excited to see what’s next for this straight-out-of-college young actor’s future.

Ben Clark (Henry) and Sophia Early (Natalie) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Director Alan Paul (Whatever he directs, for god’s sake, just go!) has assembled the best cast with top-drawer performances plus Chris Youstra’s staging that brings it all seamlessly together. This is the one to see now!

Choreographer, Eamon Foley; Music Director, Christopher Youstra; Scenic Designer, Wilson Chin; Costume Designer, Helen Huang; Lighting Designer, Sherrice Mojgani; Sound Designer, Ken Travis; Dramaturg, Naysan Mojgani.

Highly recommended!

Through March 3rd at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814. For tickets and information contact the box office at 240 644-1100 or visit

Comments are closed.