by Lorie Lewis Ham
Lately, we have seen a lot of shows on the darker side—we started off with Sweeney Todd in Visalia, then The Bad Seed at 2nd Space, and now Next to Normal in Selma. While all three shows are wonderful and wonderfully done, Next to Normal is the one among them that is most likely to strike a chord with many because of its realistic portrayal of mental illness. It is also the most likely to have you reaching for the tissues. I don’t know if this was intentional on the part of the Selma Arts Center, but this is the perfect musical to see during Mental Health Awareness Month.Next to Normal is a rock musical with a story that centers around a mother, Diana Goodman (Camille Gaston), who is struggling with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her family and her. The musical addresses grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, and of course mental illness. I really appreciate how it shows the toll that it takes on the entire family and the struggles that Diana is going through to try to get better. This musical won Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The cast does a brilliant job of bringing this difficult and moving story to life. The show is filled with powerhouse voices accompanied by a live band. Valley theatre-goers will be very familiar with Terry Lewis who plays the husband Dan Goodman, and Camille Gaston who plays Diana—not only are they extremely talented actors but they have amazing voices. There is one scene with Terry that is just, well—tissues for sure! I am less familiar with Brittany Smith who plays the daughter, Natalie, Jason Bionda who is the son, and Lex Martin who plays Natalie’s boyfriend Henry, but they too sounded great and I look forward to seeing more of them on stage in the future. Ben Sells, who plays both psychiatrists, is well known to Selma theatre-goers and he too has a lovely voice. Shelby Guizar is a featured dancer. Kudos to first-time director Laramie Dawn Woolsey and her co-director Jessica Meredith for bringing this complicated show together so well.
The music in Next to Normal includes songs that are fun, heartbreakingly beautiful, and brimming with a roller coaster ride of emotions. However, what makes this musical so incredible is the story and it is one I think everyone should see. Despite the seriousness of the subject, there are some funny and light-hearted moments as well—I especially enjoyed Ben Sells as the “rockstar” doctor (you will know it when you see it).
Next to Normal is on stage at the Selma Arts Center, 1935 High St, Selma, CA through May 27. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by visiting their box office. Box office hours are Monday – Wednesday 1 PM-5 PM. Next to Normal is rated PG-13. Do not miss this amazing and moving show and as I said, don’t forget the tissues!
There are two understudy performances on May 20, but I have every confidence that they do a wonderful job as well. Terry Lewis will be playing the husband at all performances.
Editor’s Note: All photos were taken by Kyle Lowe.
There are also some special events:
Thursday, May 18th – Post Show Talk Back
Mental health talk-back with Nancy Doi (Psychologist)
Thursday, May 18th & 25th – Student Discount Night. (Use code SAC15)
Tickets will be $15 for anyone with a current student I.D. (digital or physical)
Friday, May 26th – Post-Show Cabaret
For only a suggested donation of $5, you can join the cast for a thirty-minute post-show cabaret.
Vizual Voices ASL interpretation offered during the May 19 and 20 performance for Deaf and Hard of Hearing guests
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.
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