Saturday, November 2, 2013

Slow Burn Theatre: Next to Normal (4 reviews)

N2NSlow Burn Theatre Company opened its production of Next To Normal at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre on October 18, 2013.
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, next to normal explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness. next to normal tells the story of a mother, Diane Goodman, who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness has on her family.With provocative lyrics and a thrilling score, this musical shows how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their family’s world intact.
Patrick Fitzwater directed a cast that included Sharyn Peoples, Anne Chamberlain, Matthew Korinko, Clay Cartland, Bruno Vida and Jason Edelstein, with music direction by Manny Schvartzman.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Boca Raton’s Slow Burn Theatre, which is expanding its reach via a partnership with the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, is offering up its version of Next to Normal. Utilizing local actors, musicians and designers, director Patrick Fitzwater easily proves a point he makes at the top of the show: The talent here impressively meets the challenges of this demanding musical.
Kitt’s score, played beautifully by musical director Manny Schvartzman and five musicians, integrates multiple musical styles... The voices of the six actors blend with power, clarity and, at times, a loveliness that shatters, as when Dan, Diana and Natalie sing Song of Forgetting.
Set designer Sean McClelland gives the family the white bones of a suburban home, appropriate for a haunted woman, and lighting designer Lance Blank underscores emotional shifts with color. Rick Peña emphasizes the family’s ordinariness, Diana’s flattened emotional state and the links between Dan and Henry via his costume design. And sound designer Rich Szczublewski supplies the vital clarity that allows Yorkey’s story to land so devastatingly.
The singer-actors are assured and heartbreaking, Peoples and Korinko capturing Diana and Dan’s bond and their suffering, Chamberlain and Edelstein conveying teens roller-coaster emotions, Vida making Gabe both tender and chilling, and Cartland finding the humor and matter-of-fact frightening qualities in the shrinks.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theatre On Stage:
Slow Burn Theatre Company’s profoundly moving production of the musical next to normal is about as good as it gets in South Florida theater.
…in most productions, the focus gravitates toward Diana and the actress playing her... Thanks to the direction of Slow Burn co-founder Patrick Fitzwater and Peoples’ courageous restraint, the show brings into the primary spotlight what often becomes next to normal’s secondary theme. It becomes a true ensemble piece about how the entire family is ravaged by Diana’s curse and seeks ways of coming to a lasting detente with it.
The show’s secret strength is that the team has created, as much through the script as the music, a tone of aching compassion throughout an unflinching excavation of human angst.
Both facets are elicited in every aspect of Fitzwater’s leadership. He creates a smoothly flowing river of passions both repressed and unleashed. No one can know how much of any performance is the actor, how much the director and how much an alloy. But Fitzwater has either elicited or enabled such an outpouring from his cast.
He has elicited personal bests from the entire cast, starting with Peoples. Above all, she never plays Diana for even a second as psychotic — which makes her striving accessible and unnervingly relatable. Peoples’ Diana not only looks like the woman next door, she looks like woman in the mirror. This makes Diana a victim caught in the grip of a devastating illness not of her making.
Matching her every step, and this is unusual in next to normal productions, is Matthew Korinko’s anguished husband. Korinko may be the other co-founder of Slow Burn but he has earned every lead role he’s gotten. And this is his best work yet.
Right behind him is Slow Burn veteran Anne Chamberlain as the daughter terrified that she carries her mother’s affliction... The winsome Chamberlain is nearly a decade older in real life, but she is absolutely credible as a late adolescent tied up in knots, forced to grow up too quickly
Bruno Vida as the son Gabe is electricity exploding from a bottle, especially in his roof-rattling anthem “I’m Alive.”
Jason Edelstein is dead on as the boyfriend Henry…
Clay Cartland adds yet another couple of droll but convincing portraits to his resume. Cartland has the ability to be both inherently funny and straightforwardly serious at the same time.
Sean McClelland’s design for the Goodman house once again portrays an X-ray of the skeleton of the two-story home as most other productions have done, but his vision is completely different. He fills the theater’s wide stage with an Escher-like house with stairways forming the roof; windows and a door visible on the ceiling… 
The set is enhanced immeasurably by the scores and scores of pictures painted with light that Lance Blank uses to change locations and moods like a kid with ADD… it’s a major accomplishment.
Once again, the music direction by Manny Schvartzman is exemplary. Kitt’s score is complex and Schvartzman not only molds the cast in the blistering solo numbers, but in Kitt’s complex chorales of interweaving harmony lines.
John Thomason reviewed for The Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Slow Burn Theatre Company is the second South Florida company in two years to produce Next to Normal. It's a production that had me fighting tears for the majority of it, even when I knew what was coming.
The casting is impeccable, with Sharyn Peoples as the troubled matriarch, Diana, whose vocals capture the range of manic joy, righteous anger, and numbed detachment required of her. As her precocious but underappreciated daughter, Natalie, Anne Chamberlain displays a wry comic sensibility between the lines. The dynamic farceur Clay Cartland is a standout in the musical's showiest dual roles as Diana's therapist and psychopharmacologist, whose rock-star and Latin-dance personas spring from Diana's imagination. But it's his more placid bedside manner in the later scenes that I'll remember most, suggesting an untapped potential for dramatic acting.
And best of all is Matthew Korinko as Diana's husband, Dan, hopelessly trying to empathize with his wife's condition while sacrificing his own life and career.
Manny Schvartzman's musical direction expertly navigates a collection of songs that mutate into one another, changing genres and rhythms on a dime. And the direction, from Patrick Fitzwater, is equally elastic, cycling through textures on a mental patient's whims; comedy and tragedy often commingle in the same number, which for this family is, if not normal, then expected.
The loudest bravo of this triumphant production, however, lands at the feet of scenic designer Sean McLelland. His 3-D dollhouse suggests an abstract living space that is as geometrically sound as it is directionally obscure…
The Sun-Sentinel still lacks a proper theatre critic even though they are smack dab in the 6th largest theatre district in the country, so they sent fashion editor Rod Hagwood to cover it for his gay-themed blog because, you know, gay people are totally qualified to critique the arts. 
Slow Burn Theatre’s production of “Next To Normal” is next to perfection.
And what keeps the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical from hitting it on the spot is hardly the fault of this staging, which is shaped with sophistication and wit by both director Patrick Fitzwater and a cast who sing the rock score with nimble voices and fiery vibrancy (finer you will not find).
No, the only thing keeping “Next To Normal” flawless-adjacent is the book itself, which late in the second act dissolves its own powerful punch with a few weepy cliches.
Supported by five offstage musicians, the cast members all bring their A-game, each capable of running away with the show (Vida almost does). Evoking the storm clouds of drug abuse, psychiatric ethics, hallucinations and suicide without leaving the audience sobbing on their seatmate’s shoulder is a triumph of the wry and smart performances.
The Slow Burn Theatre Company production of Next To Normal plays at the West Boca Performing Arts Theater October 18 – November 3, then relocates to the Aventura Arts and Cultural Center November 7-10.

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