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Fresh, Raw and Stunning

'Next to Normal' Touches the Heart


Fresh, Raw and Stunning

Matt Dengler as Gabe, Ephie Aardema as Natalie, Jonathan Rayson as Dan, Judy McLane as Diana.

By Alexander Weisman.

If you've been thinking about seeing Next to Normal at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, stop thinking and go. The show is in the middle of its run and continues until Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. I wasn't sure what I was going to think of this Pulitzer Prize-winning rock opera, since I have a low tolerance for overwrought melodrama, but Next to Normal is a very real, very human portrait of a family torn by grief and mental illness.

The plot of Next to Normal revolves around Diana, a suburban mother who suffers from bipolar disorder, and many of the songs focus on her symptoms and her struggle to find effective treatment. Diana's illness inevitably affects her husband and daughter, who have struggles of their own.

Pioneer Theatre Company's production is excellent, with a spare, multilayered set that reflects the characters' multilayered relationships. The cast had me spellbound from the first number. I especially enjoyed Jonathan Rayson's moving portrayal of Dan, the husband and father whose love and loyalty cannot be questioned even as his attempts to solve his family's problems sometimes go wrong.

Next to Normal presents the audience with more questions than answers, but the play's overall message is that love, loyalty and joy can endure even in the face of undeniable heartbreak. As the teenaged Natalie sings, "You don't have to be happy, to be happy you're alive."

Content Advisory: Audience members should be aware that Next to Normal contains multiple instances of profanity and drug use, along with sexual references. If it were a movie, it would be rated R. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone under the age of sixteen.

The show runs nightly at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 E. in Salt Lake City, now through Oct. 1. Monday-Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets $36-$57, $5 more day of show. Visit the website or call 801-581-6961.

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