Friday, June 1, 2012

Next to Normal

Several months ago I discovered that Boiler Room Theatre had one of my all time favorite musicals on their roster for this season. Back in 2009, shortly before the Tony Awards, I got to see a show that I knew very little about, but had heard good things. Next to Normal turned out to be one of the turning points in my love (obsession?) with theatre and Broadway in particular. Partially because I was so touched by the show, but also because it was the first time I had ever gone to stage door for autographs & pictures from the actors.
Taken from Boiler Room Theatre's Facebook pag

Since seeing Next to Normal on Broadway, I've looked forward to and simultaneously dreaded, regional and community productions of the show. The book and music is so strong, but the original Broadway cast was so amazing, I was worried that any other production I saw would be unable to live up to the Broadway version.

Boiler Room Theatre is located in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. Nashville is quite a drive for me, but I knew the trip might just be worth it, so I called up a friend a few weeks ago and arranged a first trip to this theatre that was awarded "Best Professional Theatre" from (Nashville) in 2011.

Next to Normal is a musical that takes a look into the lives of the Goodman family and how they deal with the issues of having a family member living with bipolar disorder. Sound like it might be nuts? To a point, it is. Dan and Diana Goodman, and their teenage children Gabe and Natalie, live in the suburbs and at first glance have a pretty typical middle class life. It quickly becomes apparent that things aren't quite what they seem in this house. You are nearly immediately made aware that something isn't quite right with Diana and see that it is drastically affecting her family.

Dan Goodman, patriarch of the Goodman family, is trying desperately to keep his house in order and his family happy, but is constantly dealing with the issues that come with his wife and the effects she has on both him and the children. Dan was played with outstanding subtlety by Mike Baum. In my opinion, he outshone almost everyone on the stage because he simply fell into the role and share both the vulnerability and the strength of Dan in such a natural way. It wasn't until I had time to process it that I realized how much Mike helped to anchor the show, much in the same way that Dan anchors the Goodman household.

Diana was played with beautiful emotion, and at times with an almost childlike beauty, by Megan Murphy Chambers. The entire show is centered on the character of Diana, so taking on this role (especially after it was originated by Alice Ripley, who was nearly perfect in the role and won a Tony for said role) must be a challenge. Diana is such a complex and multi-faceted character that anyone who performs the role well is a star in their own right. Megan Murphy Chambers was more than up to the challenge. Vocally, she was made for the role. Her acting was nearly flawless, and more than a few times I found myself wanting to climb up on stage and give her a hug as I cried.

My biggest (and really only) issue with her in the role of Diana was that she just looked so darn young! It was almost a little hard to believe she was old enough to have a child that was 18 years old. That aside, Megan Murphy Chambers took a role that I was most worried about being done justice and not only put my fears to rest, she nearly blew me out of the water.

As a side note, I saw both Megan Murphy Chamber and Mike Baum in the Circle Players' production of Company earlier this year and I have to say I was more than impressed with both of them there as well.

Paige Brouillette tackled the role of teen daughter Natalie with gusto. Natalie is a girl dealing with normal teen pressures, compounded by the stress she is under from her family situation and the effect her mother's bipolar disorder has on her. Natalie is a character I always connected with deeply (though I've never quite figured out why). Paige Brouillette has a beautiful voice and managed to make Natalie's own manic personality something that I could connect with and feel empathy for.

Older brother Gabe was played by Kevin Mead. Mead both looked the part of the "golden boy" older brother and had the vocal chops to match. Gabe's relationship with his mother, his lack of relationship with his father, and the tension between he and his sister make it necessary for the person in the role to be able to handle a wide range of emotions. Mead seemingly took this on with ease.

Natalie's boyfriend Henry, played by Jordan Ravellette is your typical, lovable slacker. Ravellette was great in the role of the endearing boyfriend that turns into a huge support for Natalie. Henry really becomes the Dan to Natalie's Diana. It was quite interesting to see the parallels in the two relationships. But most of all, I don't think any straight girl or woman in the world couldn't help but think to themselves, "I wish I had a Henry."

Rounding out the cast was Ben Van Diepen, who played both of Diana's therapists. While it's not uncommon to see a person playing more than one role in a show, with such a small cast one would think that it could be distracting and slightly confusing, but Ben Van Diepen did such a fantastic job at creating two different characters that is was hardly noticeable. And while these roles are always played by the same person, it was nice to see such a line of distinction that was made between the two characters.

The set was quite different from the set that I saw on Broadway, and honestly, I expected it to be. I found that the set for the Boiler Room Theatre production reminded me of the scene from the movie The Labyrinth where there are all the stairs that lead to nowhere. It was intriguing and gave well to the mood of the show.

scene from The Labyrinth

I did feel that there were some issues with sound and lighting. With the band on stage, there were a few times here and there that the music felt too loud for the small theatre space and at times overpowered the cast, which was sad because they are all so talented. When the actors were standing at the top of level of the set, the height was so much that the light on the ceiling often cast a shadow on the faces of the actor that it was supposed to be illuminating. Again, I think this was due more to the small space than anything else.

This show was a solid production and totally worth a super late night and drive back home from Nashville. In fact, if I lived closer to Nashville, I'd probably return to see it again before it closes. If you ever thought you'd like to see Next to Normal or if you think you like a more modern musical, I urge you to check out this show.

You can see Next to Normal at Boiler Room Theatre through June 16th. You can purchase tickets by visiting their website.


  1. HI!
    First, I love your blog, and I love that you live in Tennessee and I love that you're featured on
    Second - I'm a Nashville girl! And, I happen to do shows with the Act Too Players, which is basically a program that does shows and workshops and such with middle/high school students and it is closely associated with the Boiler Room!
    Anyway, this summer the Act Too show is Les Mis - and if you feel like making the drive out this summer, you should come! is the website, and I imagine the dates should be easy to find.
    There are some really talented kids in this cast - and kids doing Les MIs - it's either going to be a train wreck....or really good!

  2. I try to make it to Nashville for shows as I can, but it's a hard trip for me as most shows are in the evening and I live a couple of hours from Nashville. I've been keeping my eye on the Act Too Players though. I follow the facebook page and twitter.
    As for being featured on I don't think I am. If I am, I don't know about it. LOL.
    Thank you for commenting. As I see shows I post about them and try to tag the company when I tweet the posts. Keep your eyes open. I may just get a chance to get down there for Les Mis.


    ^2nd page!

  4. Ah! I didn't know she'd written a post about those tweets! :) Thanks so much for the info.