Review: Next To Normal at Gannon’s Schuster Theatre

Before you head out to see the Schuster Theatre’s production of Next to Normal, make sure you pack your tissues. There are no jazz hands in this show. Just lots of feels.

All the feels, to be exact.

Next to Normal, masterfully directed by Molly Cooke, is a Tony award-winning rock musical that tells the story of a family grappling with the effects of mental illness.

The show centers around Diana, a wife and mother who struggles with bipolar disorder, and the impact it has on her family, including her husband Dan, their teenage daughter Natalie, and their son Gabe, who isn’t all he appears to be.

The musical explores the themes of grief, loss, and the intricacies of love as the family navigates the challenges of Diana’s illness.

Gannon freshman Anna Skinner takes on the role of Diana, and she does so with grace and maturity beyond her years. Skinner crafts the quite literally insane complexity of Diana perfectly.

Skinner takes us through Diana’s journey with moments of clarity and lucidity, which are broken up by manic and suicidal episodes. She does so in a way in which anyone facing any sort of mental health issue can easily relate. There was not a dry eye in the audience as she sang a line in the finale, Light:

“And you find some way to survive
And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all,
To be happy you’re alive.”

Curtis Jones III takes us through Dan’s heartbreaking journey as he attempts to be the rock of the family, and as his wife’s mental health continues to spiral. Jones puts on a powerful performance, with a soothing tenor voice and stellar acting chops to back it up.

Photo credit: Matt King

The star of the show, in my opinion, is Stella Przybylinski, who was simply born to play the role of Natalie, the angsty teenage daughter of Dan and Diana. Her voice cuts through the house like a knife, and she performs with such raw emotion.

The cast is rounded out by Gannon sophomore Anthony Nunez as the haunting teenage son, Gabe; Shane Stafford as Natalie’s stoner boyfriend, Henry; Edwin Lopez as Dr. Fine; and Brian Bowersox as Dr. Madden.

Photo credit: Matt King

I had the privilege of seeing Next to Normal twice on Broadway, as well as the Korean cast in Seoul. An addition to Gannon’s production that proved powerful are the “home videos” played on a screen behind the set, showing clips of the family through the years, including Natalie and Gabe as kids (played by Tessa Scavella and Joel Nunez Jr.), which are dispersed throughout the show.

My only complaint was the sound. I understand opening night will have its technical issues, but there were points of the show that the sound problems completely took me out of the moment on stage.

The expert orchestra of Andrew Rainbow on piano, Dan Lucore on guitar, Dan Bainbridge on cello, Jim Kipp on Bass, Moe Ferrara on Violin, and Jim Griffey on drums drives the pace of the show. The band is incredible, but for a good portion of the production, all the audience could hear were the hi-hats on the drums.

Again, it was opening night, and I’m sure those technical kinks have been worked out, so please don’t let that sway you from seeing this beautiful piece.

The Schuster Theatre’s production of Next to Normal tells the Goodman family’s story with compassion and understanding toward the show’s complex and sensitive nature.

In Dramaturg Karalyn Headley’s playbill notes, she highlights that “it reminds those who may see themselves anywhere in this story that their struggles matter, and that often the best thing you can do for those you love is seek the care and support that you need to be present both in their lives and in your own.”

As Natalie sings in the show:

“I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay”

Next to Normal is more than okay. Don’t miss this production! You have five more chances to see it.

Saturday, 4/22 8PM
Thursday, 4/27 8PM
Friday, 4/28 8PM
Saturday, 4/29 2PM
Saturday, 4/29 8PM

Tickets may be purchased in advance online until one hour before showtime, during which they may be purchased in person at the box office. Box office opens at 7PM and seating starts thirty minutes prior to curtain. There is no late seating available.

Gannon Students can enter the coupon code SUPERBOY for $5 off of the sale price. One code per transaction. You will need to show your student ID when arriving to the theatre.

Spotlight 814 the podcast will begin production soon, so keep an eye on our social media for more on what’s going on in our beautiful little theatre community!

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