Tom Kitt has written an extraordinary amount of music for the 2009 Broadway musical “Next to Normal,” a show that rightfully won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.
There are book scenes in this story of a bipolar woman struggling with grief as a result of trauma and a family who has to learn that normalcy as it is generally understood is as ill-defined as it is typically misleading. But these scenes never last too long: Kitt’s great music (and Brian Yorkey’s lyrics) are always almost below the surface, with the characters constantly yearning to get into the song because it’s their only option to convey what they’re feeling.
So there is some logic in Paramount Theater artistic director Jim Corti’s decision to downsize a show that originally took place in a large suburban home so that it was tuned to the minimum physical material required for that show to sing. This, of course, includes a small secret cabinet in the dark for pills, as the show implicitly criticizes the idea of taking drugs to get what is as undesirable as unattainable for some.
The philosophy of this beautiful musical is really in its title: Besides the normal, it’s the most most of us can achieve, and that’s not as bad as it sounds.
Paramount nowadays operates both on its huge, historic main stage and at the Copley Theater across the street in downtown Aurora – a venue it clearly shares with weddings, given all the chairs I saw in the lobby on Friday night. An ironic counterpoint to the action on the stage inside this 173-seat theater.
To some people, a Broadway hit like this might seem like a weird entry in a series nicknamed The BOLD Series, but then this track isn’t like that at all. “Stone Age” or “Beauty and the Beast.” The theme is bold and rewards those who watch the show in an intimate space.
Corti found a vulnerable, harmonious singer in Donna Louden, who played the central role of Diana. It’s a difficult role to sing not because of the sheet music, but because of the high stakes of almost every song, and although it is unusually gentle, the performance constantly involves existential risks. I can pretty much say the same for the honest work of Barry DeBois, who plays her husband Dan, and the sweet-voiced Jake Ziman, who plays his son, Gabe. I’m usually shy in doctor’s scenes, but Devin DeSantis, one of Chicago’s leading theater vocalists, supports them very well.
In the critical closing moments of the piece, where her daughter Natalie (Angel Alzeidan) has to accept her mother as an imperfect but loving soul, the emotional toll is still a bit insecure: Alzeidan mustered all of her character’s anger and frustration, but less so than she thought otherwise. what it needs. This is very difficult: I would say this is a work in progress.
But for the fans of this party and for us many enthusiasts, this staging is very satisfying. And there’s also a nice clarity to what Corti is trying to do here: I’ve watched a lot of people around me, people clearly unfamiliar with this piece, leaning on the material and traveling with it, even privileged the journey over the destination.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Near Normal” (3 stars)
When: Until September 3
Where: The Paramount’s Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena Avenue, Aurora
Duration: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Tickets: $40-55 at 630-896-6666 and paramountaurora.com