Arts & Entertainment, Features, Reviews

REVIEW: BU On Broadway’s ‘Next to Normal’ exceeds normal

Not every suburban family is as picture-perfect as they seem, and it only takes a few seconds before the dysfunction, chaos and grief begin to merge.

This is the story of “Next to Normal.” Boston University On Broadway brought the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show to BU’s Student Theater, with its opening performance this past Thursday and three more shows on Friday and Saturday.

(From left) Diana, played by Lily Kutner, goes to the hospital to talk to Dr. Madden, played by Rose Dubois, to talk about an outburst at home about her son in a production of “Next to Normal” at the Student Theater at Agganis Arena. “Next to Normal” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show put on by student organization BU On Broadway. SARAH CRUZ/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

“Next to Normal” follows Diana, a mother dealing with bipolar disorder and mental illness after her son Gabe died 16 years ago. Diana pushes her perfectionist daughter Natalie away, causing a rift in their relationship. Her husband, Dan, pressures her to continue treatment that continues to rip at her very being in order for him to regain the wife he once knew.

The cast, comprised of exceptionally talented student singers and actors, delivered a flawless performance on opening night. Their voices paired extremely well together, captivating the audience with every song.

Lily Kutner, a senior in the College of Fine Arts, was made for the role of Diana — she stole the show in each song. Kutner’s rendition of “I Miss The Mountains” showcased her ability to make the audience feel her longing for a different life. Her stage presence was phenomenal, and I was moved by the sheer strength of her voice, even during the song’s softest verses.

Kutner and her on-stage husband, played by Zach Schwartz, a junior in the College of Communication, had the right amount of confidence and chemistry to depict a marriage slowly ripping at the seams. Schwartz displayed Dan’s inability to accept that normal was impossible with such accuracy, that the audience couldn’t help but empathize with his character while also despising the harm he was doing to his wife.

Despite addressing serious issues such as child loss, grief and mental health issues, the cast executed the show’s jokes with perfect comedic timing.

Rose Dubois, a freshman in Wheelock College of Education and Human Development, perfected this balance as Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. Her humor kept her scenes entertaining, while shedding light on modern-day psychiatry’s questionable ethics.

Kaiah Walsh, a sophomore College of Arts and Sciences student, played Natalie with the perfect amount of angst and anger. She and her phantom brother, played by Joey Russoniello, a sophomore in the Faculty of Computing and Data Sciences, showed off their sibling dynamic during “Superboy And The Invisible Girl,” which depicted how neglected Natalie felt by her mother compared to her dead brother, who lived in her mother’s hallucinations. When Walsh and Russoniello sang, you could tell that their voices by the end of the song represent how Natalie continues to live in the shadow of her dead brother, with his voice overpowering hers.

Walsh was not only an emotional duo with her onstage brother but also her onstage love interest and everyone’s favorite stoner boyfriend, Henry, played by Ben Stone-Zelman, a junior in COM. Stone-Zelman and Walsh had the audience sighing in admiration of the sweet but complicated romantic relationship they played on stage.

Every detail of the show was perfectly planned for the Student Theater’s intimate venue. Using the split-level stage to parallel the characters’ relationships was brilliant, especially in displaying how Natalie and Diana both push away people they love in “Why Stay?/A Promise.”

The crew did an equally amazing job as any performer on stage. The lighting precisely followed the emotional energy of the show, and the orchestra was a pure delight to listen to during the songs and transitions between different events. This production left an emotional impression on its crowd and received a well-deserved standing ovation for the amount of thought and effort that was easily seen by the audience.

“Next to Normal” was more than just a musical. It resonated with the audience after the curtains closed and showcased the importance of understanding, acceptance and healing on one’s own terms.

Zach Schwartz is a contributing writer and photographer at The Daily Free Press. He was not involved in the reporting or editing of this article.

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