Hilary Holbrook has worked as an actor and violinist in Chicago since graduating from Loyola in 2008. When not in the theater, Hilary enjoys knitting, antiquing, and adventures of all kinds!
Colette Todd and Gilbert Domally in BoHo Theatre’s production of NEXT TO NORMAL (Amy Boyle)
Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at BoHo Theatre
By Hilary Holbrook
Since it first appeared on Broadway in 2008, I have been a huge fan of this show. NEXT TO NORMAL examines the issues of grief, mental illness, and family dynamics in a way that is as intimate and touching as it is electric and riveting. So, when I learned that BoHo Theatre was producing this powerful show, I jumped at the chance to see it, and you should, too. Within the confines of Theater Wit, BoHo’s production of Next to Normal showcases some of the brightest musical theater talent I’ve seen this year.
The show centers around Diana (Colette Todd) and her struggles with mental illness and dealing with the loss of her son. Her husband, Dan (Donterrio Johnson), tries his best to keep his family together, while her daughter, Natalie (Ciera Dawn) can barely contain her anger at the crumbling edifice that is her family. To say Diana is a difficult character is an obvious understatement, and Ms. Todd rises to this challenge very well. Mr. Johnson’s “Dan” is steadfast, poignant, and heartbreaking. Whenever he and Gilbert Domally (Gabe) sang together, I was so transfixed that I could not look away. It was a true pleasure to watch the relationship between Ms. Dawn’s “Natalie” and Bradley Atkinson’s “Henry”. They both captured that adorable awkwardness of high school romance, and they were a delight to watch!
Sarah Ross’ set was a suitable backdrop for this story. The clean, white house is pristinely clean and perfect. It helps show a family that is desperate to keep everything as normal as possible, and the clinically white environment alone is enough to make one go a little mad! However, the set and minimal props posed a challenge to the actors at times. Without much to reference, actors seemed to be a little unaware of what to do with their hands. At times, there was a lot of generic “gesturing-to-show-that-I’m-singing” type hand movements that only seemed to detract from the storytelling, but this is minor when compared to the sheer power of their voices.
The biggest problem with staging a musical in any storefront space is what in the world do you do with the band? They take up much needed stage space, and finding the right balance—so as not to drown out the actors—is always a challenge. I have to give big kudos to the sound designer (Joe Palermo) and orchestra (Ellen Morris, Michael Lockler, Renee Henley, Tony Scandora, Jon Nadal, and David Priest) because the balance was so good that I thought the music was recorded (it’s not). The orchestra is hidden, which actually posed a slight problem. At times, the pace of the orchestra was a little too fast for the actors. It seemed as though actors were moving with the intent of “Quick! Gotta move the music is going to start!”, and not with the intent of furthering the story.
BoHo’s production shows us that a Broadway musical is just as powerful in a storefront theatre as it is on a Broadway stage, if not more so. All I can say is, see it.