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Stage

Musical ‘Next to Normal’ triumphs behind a successful second act

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Kirstin Maki (center) performs in Next to Normal at the Onyx.
Photo: Bill Hughes
Jacob Coakley

I confess to approaching Huntsman Entertainment and Off-Strip Productions’ Vegas premiere of Next to Normal at the Onyx with a little trepidation. A critical darling, the show can too easily drift into self-importance, losing its humanity under its self-consciously arty score. But while the going was rocky at times, ultimately this show really delivered.

The Details

Three and a half stars
Next to Normal
March 14-16, 21-23; 8 p.m.; March 17, 2 p.m.; $25.
Onyx Theatre, 732-7225.

Normal tells the story of Diana Goodman (played by Briona Daugherty), a mentally ill woman, and her family—husband Dan (Cory Benway), daughter Natalie (Kirstin Maki) and son Gabe (Jason Kreitz)—as they deal with her illness. It’s not an easy topic for a musical, and it didn’t go easily at first. Constant technical problems and sloppy mixing during the first act meant that no matter what happened onstage, the audience was kept at a distance. Too often the actors lost the specifics of the moment, instead indicating just how important a moment or emotion was supposed to be. Still, there were moments. Daugherty nailed “I Miss the Mountains,” a difficultly triumphant song, and Maki took charge during “Superboy and the Invisible Girl,” ensuring that she was anything but.

And what a difference an intermission makes—the second act came to life in ways entirely unexpected. Most of the audio issues were cleared up, and the emotional struggles popped. Daugherty was haunting as she found the core of her character, and Maki’s performance grew even brighter as her Natalie rode the crackling energy and aftershocks of her mom’s illness. Their final song, “Maybe (Next to Normal),” was heartbreaking. The second act had lots of these moments—including an agonizing look from Benway—when he finally notices his daughter—that will stick with me for a while.

The men in the cast (including Anthony Meyer as Henry and Glenn Heath as a pair of doctors) had less to do than the ladies, but they all acquitted themselves well. Director and set designer Steve Huntsman has put together a solid, good-looking show. While Normal’s staging doesn’t call for flashy choreography, Kathy Ortiz’s movement guides the cast well through their numbers. This production is flawed, but it had its catharsis, and it illuminated the show for me in ways I hadn’t seen before.

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