“Next to Normal” – Scottsdale Community Players and ThePmvproductions

Theater Review – January 16, 2022


Scottsdale Community Players and The Pmvproductions, Stagebrush Theatre
Scottsdale, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

American musicals don’t usually tackle psychological issues like bipolar disorder but the brilliant 2009 Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey show “Next to Normal” deals with this medical situation in one of Broadway’s best musicals.  The show’s somber theme creates characters with difficult confrontations because this issue is rarely resolved.  Having seen the magnificent New York production that featured Alice Ripley’s award-winning interpretation of Diana, the show’s lead character, makes it hard for any subsequent production to achieve the original staging’s subtle brilliance at making this subject interesting.

The show played here in its original tour and only once after in a disappointing Arizona Theatre Company version.  But Scottsdale Community Players in conjunction with The Pmvproductions secured a sharp cast of locally connected performers who have embarked on extensive professional careers but returned to play just two weekends of the show.  The resulting production, while not a threat to the original, is impressive and provides a worthwhile opportunity to see this rarely produced masterpiece.  The six-person cast create extremely complex characters with believable sensitivity.

Especially strong is Stephanie Likes’ Diana, the troubled central character who battles bipolar emotions as she tries to find a successful solution to her diagnoses that doesn’t include side-effect-plagued medicinal treatments.  Her interpretation of the show’s triumph song, “I Miss the Mountains” is particularly noteworthy as are this character’s constant swings between normalcy and bizarre behaviors.

As her dead son Gabe, Casey Likes, Stephanie’s real-life scion, tackles a crafty but emotionally volatile character who died at eight-months but is now a real-life grown person in Diana’s mind who provides his mother with many multifaceted challenges. As Dad Dan, Caleb Reese successfully tries to deal sensitively with Diana’s often unexplainable behavior.  Gabe’s troubled sister, Natalie is played by Nora Palermo as a defiant trouble-maker.  Her confused boyfriend, Henry is Ethan Drew who can’t always decide how to take his significant other.  As Diana’s not always clear doctors, Madden and Fine, Bob Sorenson attempts a stabilizing force in Diana’s upside-down life.

Lorenzo Slavin’s musical direction is appropriately tidy as his musical ensemble plays Kitt’s score with sleek style.  Maureen Dias’ staging keeps the show moving well on a simple set that serves a variety of locales with smooth efficiency.

“Next to Normal” plays just one more weekend through January 23.  To purchase tickets, visit greasepaint.org.  Two negative notes on the production.  First, there are no printed programs available.  For a musical as complex as “Next to Normal,” it is critical to have a program to provide context to the musical.  The other negative note is the unusually early evening curtain time of 7 p.m.

Grade: A