Arts & Entertainment, Features

REVIEW: Stage Troupe’s ‘Next to Normal’ offers heartbreaking look at mental illness

CAS junior Roberto Nunez and CAS freshman Nikita Sethi perform a scene together in BU Stage Troupe’s production of Next to Normal. The play will run April 12–14. PHOTO BY JOHN KAVOURIS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

At their final dress rehearsal on Wednesday night, the cast of “Next to Normal,” presented by BU Stage Troupe, received a standing ovation.

“Next to Normal” is the story of Diana Goodman, played by Lauren Linn, a mother and wife struggling with severe depression and bipolar disorder. The show focuses on the effects that illness and grief have on the family’s emotional stability and interpersonal relationships. The rock musical is a powerful platform for mental illness.

With a phenomenal cast, crew and orchestra, the show is a heartbreaking joy to view.

It’s obvious the sheer amount of thought that has been put into the production as soon as you walk in the theater. The set features the wide frame of a house with two higher platforms for the actors to perform on, creating dynamic levels throughout the musical. The walls appear to have peeling wallpaper, revealing the wood and brick underneath, to establish a very homey space.

As for the performers, the magnitude of vocal talent on stage is incredible, and the blend of voices among the rock instrumentals is beautiful.

Rama Lauw, a College of Communication junior who portrays Gabe Goodman, is a powerhouse soloist who brings the house down with his sweet tenor. His acting is compelling and intriguing as the ghostly son of the family. Lauw had big shoes to fill, as the role of Gabe was originally performed by Broadway babe Aaron Tveit, but Lauw brings something refreshing to the role that kept Wednesday’s audience engaged.

Nikita Sethi, a CAS freshman who plays Natalie Goodman, is gut-wrenching as the intelligent but misunderstood daughter. Her portrayal is realistic and her vocals soar above that of the typical freshman. Natalie is slowly driven to prescription drugs throughout the show due to the personal distress in her life, and Sethi presents a relatable and moving version of the young woman. Not to mention her love interest, Henry, played by CAS junior Roberto Nunes, matches her with harmonies and emotion throughout the show. The two actors are quite the pair.

Hugo Lindsay, a junior in the College of Engineering who plays conflicted father Dan Goodman, is consistently touching as the caring but confused husband. He brings a genuine nature and a smooth tone to the stage. Lindsay is a BU theater veteran, having also starred as Herr Schultz in OB’s production of “Cabaret.” He has once again shown his talent as a vocalist and leading man.

But the shining lead is Lauren Linn, a senior in CAS, who stars as the heartbreaking Diane Goodman. Linn was stunning in her portrayal. She brought Wednesday’s audience to tears with her soulful belt, displaying a range equivalent to that of a professional. Linn’s performance is beautiful and respectful to the themes of the show.

As a character, Diana is physically and emotionally draining to perform, but Linn rises to the challenge and her clear dedication to the art of theater is extremely admirable. She shed tears as the tormented leading woman brought the audience to full-on sobs.

Overall, Stage Troupe did a wonderful job of creating a powerful and accessible version of one of the most well-respected Broadway shows of the 2000s. College of Fine Arts junior Daniel Stocker has outdone himself as the musical director of such a challenging show. His work with the pit and actors clearly took time and effort. Stocker is also a fabulous piano player, and “Next to Normal” proves he’s a joy to watch.

One of the difficulties with creating “Next to Normal,” especially as college students, is being respectful to the heavy themes of mental illness, grief and suicide. The creative team has done an exquisite job of putting on a show full of courtesy and grace. This show is not one to miss.

“Next to Normal” runs through Saturday, April 14 at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena.

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