“Next to Normal” – Arizona Theatre Company and “Lucia di Lammermoor” – Arizona Opera

This review aired on KBAQ October 15, 2012


Arizona Theatre Company
Phoenix, AZ

“Next to Normal,” is a superb show that deals with the devastating impact of bipolar illness on Diana, the show’s central character, and her family.

On Broadway, “Next to Normal” gripped your heart and soul as you were pulled into the characters and their lives.  Nothing of the sort occurs in the Arizona Theatre Company’s disappointing production that marks the musical’s Southwestern premiere.

Not anything works here from a disappointing cast, to lethargic direction that allows the show to wallow instead of moving along briskly, to an orchestra that never catches the fire of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s throbbing score.

This production falters primarily on its cast.  As Diana, Kendra Kassebaum doesn’t have the acting chops to craft this emotionally complex and challenging character.  Kassebaum’s singing lacks Diana’s plaintive cries that let audiences know how much her instability hurts.  Especially disappointing is the musical’s conclusion when Diana’s therapy and her family’s acceptance should reveal a bit of resolution.  Instead you leave this production unfulfilled and unmoved by this family.  The cast never convinces that they are a caring, cohesive family.

Also disappointing is Joe Cassidy as Dan, Diana’s flounderingly confused husband.  Andrea Ross misses the fragile emotionalism of daughter Natalie and her physical stature makes her wrong as well.  Mark Farrell is boring in two pivotal roles as doctors involved in Diana’s case.  Only Jonathan Shew, as the couple’s dead son Gabe, and A. J. Holmes as Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend, captures a hint of the guys they portray.

David Ira Goldstein, usually an excellent director, allows his “Next to Normal” to meander and wander where it demands zing, drive, and conviction, while Christopher McGovern’s lackluster band doesn’t breathe an iota of life into the unusually sharp and telling score.

It’s not often that ATC delivers such a pedestrian production of such a richly rewarding show.  Local audiences should wait for a stronger and truer production of this masterpiece.  This “Next to Normal” lumbers on until October 28.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: D


A quick preview of next spring’s Arizona Opera season review.  They opened over the weekend with an amazing “Lucia di Lammermoor” but this special mention is because soprano Lisette Oropesa who was truly memorable in the demanding title role.  Oropesa’s Lucia must become a signature career role.  And this from a critic who saw both Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills sing the role brilliantly in their heydays.  Oropesa’s Lucia belongs with those great opera stars.  For those who saw it, treasure the performance and thank Arizona Opera for bringing Oropesa to local opera audiences.  “Lucia di Lammermoor” continues through October 21 in Tucson.  For Tucson tickets, call the Arizona Opera Tucson box office at 520-293-4336.

2 Responses to ““Next to Normal” – Arizona Theatre Company and “Lucia di Lammermoor” – Arizona Opera”

  1. Anne Till said:

    Oct 15, 12 at 23:55

    For Next to Normal … what you say is NOT at all what I thought about the production. I was completely moved by it, loved the emotion in the singing, and thought the characters were totally believable. I’ve lost a son so can completely understand her madness and the different reactions of the family members. The mumbling that I heard from the audience was that they loved it. I didn’t see the Broadway version so don’t have anything to compare it to. Sometimes a production is just so great that it would be difficult to live up to it. I would recommend seeing the ATC version at the Herberger.

  2. John Morris said:

    Oct 16, 12 at 14:17

    Oh what a relief to read your review.

    I saw the show on Thursday night (10/11) and left the theater thinking something must be wrong with me.

    I couldn’t figure out how a show hailed as a masterpiece, that was nominated for eleven Tony Awards — and won three, and also won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, could be so awful.