Monday, June 6, 2016

reviews - NEXT TO NORMAL - Nearly Naked Theatre

Johnna Watson, Adam Bei, Johanna Carlisle and Dave Ray
photo: Laura Durant
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through June 25th.

"..Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Next to Normal, deals with the misunderstood issue of mental disease...This moving musical drama, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as several Tony Awards, is receiving a stellar production from Nearly Naked Theatre that features spot-on direction and an exceptional cast that rarely falters....focuses on a very dysfunctional family for whom life is anything but normal. Mom Diana suffers from a list of mental diseases and her illness takes a constant toll on the rest of the family. Her husband Dan is very supportive but Diana's unpredictable behavior makes it difficult for him to help her. Their two children Gabe and Natalie are very much a constant reminder to Diana of how she wasn't, and still isn't, able to accurately help and support them. ...Yorkey's book and lyrics treat the subject matter and the characters with much care, but he also interjects plenty of humor throughout. ...Director Damon Dering is just as respectful of the material and characters as the show's creators and he has found a cast that deliver rich, moving and realistic portrayals. As Diana, Johanna Carlisle stunningly captures the difficult predicament of this emotionally scared, confused and frightened woman. ...It is an exceptionally moving, rich and raw performance, as is every other one in this extremely gifted cast. Dave Ray instills Dan with a sense of compassion along with a loyal support and deep love for his wife and family, even as he endures the many highs and lows of what that requires....As Natalie, Johnna Watson, at only 16, is delivering the type of performance someone with years of experience would achieve. ..As her brother Gabe, Adam Bei has the somewhat difficult job of being different things to different people....Bei manages his way through all of these roles with ease...Both Watson and Bei's vocals are excellent with roof-raising, sustained and soaring notes throughout. Vincent Pugliese has perfect chemistry with Watson, as Henry, the stoner boy who falls for Natalie, and delivers an endearing performance that you root for...Brett Aiken plays two doctors who treat Diana and provides...a compelling performance. Dering's direction is clear, concise and focused...Curtis Moeller's music direction achieves stellar sounds from the superb six-piece band and the cast....Next to Normal is a roller coaster ride of a musical that deals with the very much misunderstood and uncomfortable issue of mental illness. It is a very thoughtful, realistic and moving show that treats that issue with respect. If you've had personal knowledge of the struggles those with mental illness face you may find this show a cathartic experience and if you haven't had any experience you will most likely have a better understanding of the issues those with it, and those around it, face. With focused direction and a transfixing cast, Nearly Naked Theatre's production is a stunning achievement."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"The masterful musical “Next to Normal” creates a dynamically insightful look at a psychologically troubled yet emotionally complex central character, Diana, and the impact her devastating illness places both on her and on her supportive family....Although not totally successful, Nearly Naked Theatre’s production rises to many of the musical’s demands and the local staging directed by Damon Dering has a superlative cast and features as Diana local musical theater diva Johanna Carlisle who is probably the only local performer who could successfully portray this bizarrely erratic part. ...Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s beautiful score contains thoughtful melodies that explain characters thoughts in this perplexing situation.  Yorkey’s book crafts an insightful look at a transforming issue....Director Dering has paced this awesome story perfectly and he keeps what could be dry story patches dynamic and vibrant.  Music director Curtis Moeller leads a six-person ensemble flawlessly. Carlisle becomes the bewildered Diana in a commanding performance that rightfully dominates the show.  Unfortunately, the music is not composed in Carlisle’s normal range so she struggles with several songs....Saturday’s opening night was plagued with light and sound problems...While not perfect, Nearly Naked Theatre’s stalwart tackling of the difficult “Next to Normal” is quite an accomplishment."  --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"...Directed by Damon Dering, last night's don't-miss production allowed a tight knit six member cast enough musical and artistic latitude to own a beautifully difficult, extremely well written story of... mental illness and suicide for exploration and revelation...the havoc wreaked on the family members who--without benefit of diagnoses and treatment--suffer at least as much, if not more, the precarious predicament into which the patient's family is thrown. As over-achieving yet invisible daughter Natalie, Johnna Watson was perfectly cast. ..coaxed necessary layers of soul-crushed depth from Natalie's quietly desperate role within the family unit. ...Diana (Johanna Carlisle) is the show's central, complex character and also Natalie's mother. As the axle around which her bent and broken spokes of a family revolved, Carlisle churned honest energy and relentless pain. Though her vocal-range break was quite pronounced in Tom Kitt's music, resulting in numbers that felt a little chopped or halting on occasion, her acting prowess as Diana was mesmerizing. ...the show's most tragic character is husband/father Dan, played here by Dave Ray. From his ever-questioning stance of who, truly, is the most well-adjusted or 'normal' respondent to their family's challenges, Ray offered a vulnerable, understated portrayal....Gabe (Adam Bei) and Henry (Vincent Pugliese), the teens who played opposite Natalie as her brother and her boyfriend respectively, offered excellent balance musically and tension dramatically. ...Bei and Watson's duet--probably the show's best known number-- "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," was especially chilling. Nearly Naked Theatre also presented Brett Aiken for the win in his many splendid hats for this production. His overturned pill bottle set helped inject dark humor into a strained, heart-rending family journey. Along with the set, Aiken provided laughs in his dual healthcare professional role.....'Normal' is such a meaningless, relative term that plagues especially those who lack a sense of belonging. Nearly Naked Theatre Company's production of the rock musical "Next to Normal" embraces the chance to offer hope and understanding, an invitation to talk about and sort through some of the American family's scariest, most concealed challenges." -Jennifer Haaland, (click here to read the complete review)

"...Next to Normal — the 2010 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with a pop-rock score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey — takes on the themes of mental illness, family dysfunction and grief with bracing wry humor and edifying compassion....Nearly Naked Theatre...beautifully captures the show’s humor, catharsis and poignant tunefulness in a polished production directed by company founder Damon Dering. Local star Johanna Carlisle delivers a wrenching performance as Diana, a suburban mom battling bipolar disorder, a k a manic-depression. ...Dering has assembled a superb cast of six singing actors. Dave Ray is a steady, understated presence as Diana’s husband...Adam Bei is a beacon of exuberance as older son Gabe... and Johnna Watson is admirably nuanced as Natalie, the overachieving little sister who struggles to thrive in his director Curtis Moeller, who leads an onstage band as crisp as any you’ll find at the Valley’s big professional theaters...Dering keeps the pacing sharp, but the actors’ movement around the split-level set sometimes feels a bit forced and clunky...the performance on opening night was hampered by a too-hot sound mix that occasionally turned the ensemble choruses into a fuzzy mess. But these are forgivable flaws in a heartfelt production that packs as much dramatic punch as the audience can handle." Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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