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'Next To Normal' Is Anything But in La Mirada

For its Southern California Regional debut, McCoy Rigby Entertainment assembled an extraordinary cast and crew to bring this 2010 Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Next To Normal, to its La Mirada stage. What is in store is a powerful and moving story of an American family coping with the mental illness of its matriarch, while trying to live a “normal” life. It is a powerful depiction of expectations, disappointments and inexplicable loss.  

Bets Malone and Robert Townsend play Diana and Dan Goodman, whom, at first glance, seem like your typical middle class couple with a teenage daughter, Natalie (Tessa Grady) and son, Gabe (Eddie Egan). However, by the middle of the first song “Just Another Day,” you realize that mom is not quite right and this family has been delicately dancing around her illness for years.

Next To Normal won three Tony Awards in 2009, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. It's a rock musical with an infectious soundtrack, with music written by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and terrific musical direction by Darryl Archibald, and solid direction from Nick DeGruccio.

A modern musical theater piece, with a small cast and no big dance numbers, Next To Normal offers a highly original approach to the genre and pulls at your heartstrings as you are sucked into the drama of the Goodmans and their life struggles. Many of us have experienced troubles in our own families, and the effects of mental illness on the family unit, and this subject is not handled lightly in the show, but rather with compassion and humor.

Malone is fantastic as Diana Goodman, a role that Alice Ripley dominated and won the Tony for; many saw Ripley at The Ahmanson in 2010 and cannot help but compare… Be assured, Malone owns the role and masters the powerful score, alongside Townsend, who delivers the chronically reliable and long suffering husband eloquently. Grady is a gritty and believable Natalie and Egan's Gabe is dynamic and powerful.

The other characters that round up the cast are Doctor Madden (Keith A. Bearden) and faithful boyfriend, Henry (Alex Mendoza). Madden gives us a compassionate performance and is exceptional in his rock star dream sequence. Mendoza, fresh off his role in La Mirada’s Spring Awakening is a perfect puppy dog boyfriend foil to Grady’s teen girl’s angst, whose overachiever life is  unraveling, offering another layer to this story of the American dysfunctional family.

One of the great features of this show is the set design, skillfully adapted by John Ezell, accompanied by the lighting design of Steven Young. With the six-piece rock band set on the stage, a two-story apparatus navigated by the actors skillfully, Next To Normal is a unique modern visual piece that lends itself powerfully to the story.

Having been to a few shows at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, I have to tell you, I love this space, and it's well worth the drive from the coast. It is a medium-sized theater, with 789 seats in the mezzanine and 462 up in the balcony, and has a lovely intimate lobby and bar. Parking is free and ample.

Next To Normal is a modern musical for modern times and for many, highly relatable, taking the musical theater genre to unique heights, offering a look at life’s ups and downs, tragedies and regrets. And as its title implies, the imperfections are sometimes all you can hope for in a family less than perfect.

Next To Normal
Through June 23
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.;
Fridays at 8 p.m.;
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.;
Sundays at 2 p.m.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada
Tickets: 562.944.9801 or 714.994.6310
:: lamiradatheatre.com

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