It’s been a long time coming, but the UK premiere of Next to Normal, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s rock musical about mental health, has finally arrived. The original 2009 Broadway run picked up the Pulitzer Prize for drama, alongside three Tony Awards, and it’s arrived here with some fanfare, not least because it stars Caissie Levy – who originated the role of Elsa in Frozen on Broadway – in the lead role. Having a show of this calibre and a cast of this talent in the intimate 250-seat Donmar Warehouse really feels like a special theatrical event.
For those unfamiliar, Next to Normal tells the story of Diana and her family; during the show’s opening number, everything initially seems very ordinary and unremarkable, until Diana decides she’d rather start making sandwiches on the kitchen floor. We soon learn that Diana is bipolar and has anxiety; we see the impact that this has on her and those around her, as well as learning about the events that have triggered her mental health issues.
We’re pleased to report that the show lives up to the hype – Next to Normal tells an incredibly powerful story, the ensemble cast is superb and the songs are great. It feels like a bit of a throwback to the 2000s, when American punk and emo was dominating the charts; very different in style to most musicals in town but all the better for it. There are some truly inspired rhyming couplets – ‘sociopath’ and ‘Sylvia Plath’ is a highlight – and there are numerous standout songs. “I’m Alive” is anthemic and brilliantly sinister, while “So Anyway” is a tender ballad which packs a real emotional punch.
It’s a story that still feels remarkably timely – it may have debuted on Broadway in 2009 but conversations about mental health, and how it’s perceived and treated, are still as relevant now as they were back then. It’s a relentless piece of theatre, and not always an easy watch, but it’s incredibly powerful and feels like it has something important to say. Caissie Levy is captivating in the lead role of Diana, but the entire cast – Jamie Parker as husband Dan, Jack Wolfe as son Gabe, Eleanor Worthington-Cox as daughter Natalie, Jack Ofrecio as Natalie’s love interest Henry, and Trevor Dion Nicholas as both Dr Madden and Dr Fine – are all superb and gel perfectly as an ensemble.
We adored this production of Next to Normal – it has all the ingredients we want from a piece of musical theatre: great songs, characters we could invest in, an important story and wonderful acting. There are very few tickets left for this limited run, but grab one if you can – you won’t regret it.
GAY TIMES gives Next to Normal – 5/5
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