AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Music by Tom Kitt Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Musical Staging by Sergio Trujillo
Directed by Michael Greif
Starring Alice Ripley
Academy of Music, 1420 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102-4223
For Tickets call: 215-731-3333 or

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Opening last night at the Academy of Music and staying for only a limited engagement is the National Tour of the very moving, Next to Normal. With a high energy rock score by Tom Kitt and wonderful book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, this intense family drama about mental illness grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Our leading lady, Diana Goodman, is a woman who for sixteen years has not been able to cope with life, loss and marriage. First being over medicated by her psychopharmacologist (Yes, these doctors are for real and there’s a song about him.) she then throws out all her pills and tries plain psychotherapy, hypnosis and even, at the insistence of her doctor ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) better known to us as “shock treatment”. Through all these travails her husband, Dan stands stoically by her – though persuading her to have shock treatment seems a betrayal. Meanwhile her overachieving teenage daughter Natalie is starved for attention and turns to self-medicating with Mom’s unused prescriptions. Natalie’s attentive boyfriend, Henry tries to help her from going down the disastrous road she’s chosen. Though the ECT helps Diana’s symptoms of depression and hallucination abate, it also causes giant chunks of her memory to be lost. Her son Gabe is also a character with whom Diana has a special relationship and as Diana’s memory returns she tries to put the pieces of her life back together.

Asa Somers as the well meaning husband Dan is superlative in his benign ignorance and his sweet voice mirrors his inner motivations. Curt Hansen gives a stand out performance as the hyperkinetic son, Gabe with his vocal pyrotechnics and almost gymnastic wiry movement. is perfect as the disenfranchised teenage daughter who only asks that her parents show up at one of her piano recitals. Her sad sack demeanor and great pop voice work in tandem to create a great performance. Preston Sadleir as Natalie’s stoner boyfriend and Jeremy Kushnier as Diana’s two doctors are also excellent. Of course the star around which these characters revolve is Diana, played by the Tony award winning Alice Ripley, the only holdover from the Broadway cast. Though Miss Ripley seems to have only half the voice that she used to possess at her disposal, she has double the acting ability. Her poignant portrayal of a deeply depressed woman in pain makes us feel all the nuances of the disease, the powerlessness to break the cycle and the hopelessness of living with a chronic disorder. (One can only hope that with rest and some TLC Miss Ripley’s vocal instrument can be restored to its former glorious condition for her benefit as well as for her many adoring fans – I of whom am one.)

The set by Mark Wendland is a cagey affair not unlike a giant metal jungle gym that creates three tiers of cubicles. Some house the onstage band, some create rooms in the family’s house, others are psychiatrist’s offices, music practice rooms, the school gym, et al. All are lit with tiny lights that change color and intensity. At one point the pieces of set come together to create a giant close-up of Diana’s face. It’s stark, it’s modern and extremely effective. The entire show would never work as well as it does were if not for the expert and economic direction by Michael Greif who keeps the pace as joltingly vibrant as the music. And did I mention that it is one of the few musicals ever to win the Pulitzer Prize and that was for 2009? It is a great piece of theatre. P

erformances on Wednesday and Thursday evenings are at 7:30pm; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm; Sunday evening at 6:30 and matinees Saturday at 2:00 pm and Sunday at 1:00 pm. This National Tour will continue onto Washington, D.C. from June 28 – July 10, then to Charlotte, NC from July 12 – July 17 and finally to Toronto, ON from July 19 – July 31.

Return to Home Page

  • Road (National) Tour Review Index
  • New York City & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • Berkshire, Massachusetts Theatre Review Index
  • Boston Area Theatre Review Index
  • Florida Theatre Review Index
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul (Twin Cities) Theatre Review Index
  • Philadelphia & Environs Theatre Review Index
  • San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Review Index
  • Seattle Area Theatre Review Index
  • Toronto, Ontario (Canada) Index