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“next to normal,” New Helvetia Theatre, facinating play, great acting

The cast of “next to normal”

The second show I saw this week that local critics have been raving about (and for good reason) is New Helvetia Theatre production of “next to normal.” The production features uniformly powerful performances by the actors, both singing and acting.

Brian Yorkey’s book (story), told mostly through his lyrics, touches on subjects such as mental illness, grieving, suicide, and a few other unlikely subjects for a musical. The music by Tom Kitt works perfectly with Yorkey’s lyrics. The play won them the Pulitzer prize for Drama which is very rarely given to a musical.

When a story is told almost exclusively through the lyrics, diction if of upmost importance. Without it the musical is just something pretty to listen to. Each actor in “next to normal” was easy to understand.

I can not rave enough about Melinda Parrett in the role of Diana, the suburban housewife who has never quite pulled herself together after a traumatic incident early in her marriage. Parrett’s astounding vocal performance is matched by her acting and dancing.

Melinda Parrett

Equally powerful is Michael Hunsaker as Dan, Diana’s husband. He is a man who is drowning and looking for a life ring to help him hold his family together. Hunsaker is a strong presence on the stage with a voice to match.

Michael Hunsaker as Dan, Melinda Parrett as Diana

Casey Canino and Matthew Provencal as Natalie the daughter who is often forgotten in the family drama and her ever patient, loving boyfriend Henry very much hold their own in this play where there are really no minor rolls.

Matthew Provencal as Henry, Melinda Parrett as Diana and Casey Canino as Natalie

The role of the psychiatrist who’s treatment of Diana seems to do little good and perhaps a lot of harm is performed by Mike Yee who has performed in several New Helvetia productions. This is a great roll for Yee and he does his best work yet at New Helvetia.

Melinda Parrett as Diana, Mike Yee as Dr. Madden

The major scene stealer of this show is Garrett Bruce as the 16 to 17 year old son. Bruce is a consummate singer, dancer, and actor. Every time he appeared on stage his presence was strongly felt much as is his character’s presence is constantly felt by the household. It was quite clear that his character very much enjoyed the trouble that he causes.

Melinda Parrett as Diana, Garrett Bruce as Gabe

It was easy for me to hear the influence of musical director Maggie Hollinbeck a wonderful actress-singer herself, who has appeared on many Sacramento stages. She most recently performed a reprise of her show “Blue” with her and guests performing the entire Joni Mitchell album “Blue.”

The unseen band led by conductor Richanne Roope on piano did an amazing job of split second timing with the singers and the dance moves.

New Helvetia associate producer Matthew Schneider directs, showing his strong eye for the look and feel of this style of musical. Schneider makes good use of Brian Watson’s set design for staging.

The bad news is that “next to normal” is sold out for what was to be the show’s last weekend. The good news for lovers of not the usual musical, “next to normal” has been extended for three more performances. Thursday, November 1, Friday November 2, and Saturday November 3, all at 8:00 pm.

“next to normal” New Helvetia Theatre
Box office (916) 916-469-9850 online newhelvetia.org
November 1-3 8:00 pm


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