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Next to Normal ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
February 3, 2020 

How do you make a story about a woman having a nervous breakdown palatable to musical theatre audiences?  First, you make the characters poignantly identifiable – Dan, a loving husband and father devoted to keeping his family intact; Natalie, a teenage daughter living in the shadow of her dead baby brother and fighting her own demons; Henry, her boyfriend committed to seeing her through her pain; and Gabe, the ghost of the dead child who haunts Diana in her darkest moments.  Such a deeply emotional story might seem highly unlikely to resonate with theatregoers, but it does.  Thanks in large part to the unforgettably beautiful score by Composer Tom Kitt with Book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the show is impossible to resist.

Brandon Victor Dixon, Rachel Bay Jones, and Michael Park – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Ignoring the needs of her family, Diana is prescribed more and more pills to dull the memory of her loss 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.

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Khamary Rose, Rachel Bay Jones, and Brandon Victor Dixon – Photo by Jeremy Danie

As she slowly descends into a manic state, Diana begins to question the pills, the therapy, and even her psychiatrist, whom she once pictured as a rock star.  “What happens if the break was not in my mind or my blood, but in my soul,” she asks Dan after another “visit” by Gabe.  While Dan wonders, “Why would you want to remember the things that hurt you?” In her manic state questions like these are impossible to contemplate, even more difficult to explain.

Maia Reficco and Ben Levi Ross – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Thirty-six numbers turbo-charge this sing-through with joy and pathos, passion and pain performed by some of Broadway’s biggest Tony, Grammy and Emmy-Award-winning stars.  I would see it again and again.

Starring the extraordinary Rachel Bay Jones (Original Heidi Hansen in B’way’s Dear Evan Hansen) as Diana; Brandon Victor Dixon (Emmy and Grammy nominated Judas in NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live) as Dan; fierce vocalist and newcomer Khamary Rose as Gabe; Maia Reficco as Natalie; Michael Park (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine; and Ben Levi Ross (National Tour of Dear Evan Hansen) as Henry.

Rachel Bay Jones and Michael Park – Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Highly recommended.  Five stars!

Directed by Michael Greif (Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen, Rent, Grey Gardens, If/Then and War Paint); Choreography by Sergio Trujillo; Music Direction by Charlie Alterman; Scenic Design by Mark Wendland; Scenic Design Adaption by Paul Tate dePoo III; Costume Design by Jeff Mahshie; Lighting Design by Cory Pattak.  Part of Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra conducted by Charlie Alterman.

Through February 3rd at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

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