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Theater Review: “Next to Normal” at the Kennedy Center

The talented Ms. Ripley dishes up an amazing performance as Diana Goodman

The Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical Next to Normal tells the story of a broken family and a mother struggling with bipolar disorder. Photo by Craig Schwartz

☆☆☆ stars out of four

Alice Ripley won a Tony for her star turn in an incredible rock musical about mental illness. Next to Normal, now playing at the Kennedy Center, is here for only a few days more before it goes on tour—don’t miss it.

The musical, with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, won the 2010 Pultizer Prize for drama and three 2009 Tony awards, including the richly deserved trophy for Ripley. She plays Diana Goodman, a mother struggling with bipolar disorder and the psychiatric treatments that often exacerbate her symptoms. Next to Normal breaks new ground by combining a pulse-pounding score and provocative lyrics with the quiet pain of a family suffering a devastating illness. The highs and lows mirror the illness itself.

The touring production is directed by Michael Greif, who also directed Rent. Ripley’s performance is simply amazing. She has terrific backup from Asa Somers, who plays her long-suffering husband. Dan. The rest of the cast offer great performances as well: Emma Huton, as her angry teenage daughter Natalie; Curt Hansen as her enigmatic son Gabe; and Jeremy Kushnier as her shrink. No bush league touring company here—it’s “A” game all the way.

The multi-level set and dramatic lighting keep the cast and the action moving in all directions—further evocations of a mind spinning out of control.

No sweetness and light, but Next to Normal provides a blockbuster evening in the theater.

Next to Normal is playing at the Kennedy Center through July 10. Click here to buy tickets.

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