Expertly produced Next to Normal lets strong writing shine

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor
The University of Pittsburgh’s Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre, a black box theater, housed the production.

Hannah Boucher | Staff Writer

10/10/19

In a quaint little theater, in the basement of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, you’ll feel like you’re in an actual home, seeing into the lives of the Goodman family. You’ll soon be exposed to drugs, schizophrenic delusions, therapy and classical piano — everything you need for a perfect show. Next to Normal is a contemporary musical that centers around a family that is anything but ordinary.

Upon entering the theater, I had a feeling that the performance would be amazing. Before the actors were on stage, or the pit had even started to play their instruments, I was visually transported into the show. The set represented the inside of a house, but the color scheme, along with the incorporation of quadrilateral shapes, created a very intriguing scene. The colors were very calming shades of blue, gray and purple, with the occasional pop of white.

As the lights dimmed, the mood was set with the overture. Initially, the music was calm, strictly piano, but then, out of nowhere, drums and electric guitar were layered on. As the heavier percussion faded out in a beautiful decrescendo, the piano accompaniment slowed down, soon fading as well. This really got my attention, and the instrumentalists at this performance did a fantastic job of utilizing those contrasts.

Although I came to the theater with some background knowledge of the plot, I had no idea what to expect before attending the show, I would have easily been able to follow along. Each scene was engaging, especially because of the intimacy of the venue. The actors would come right up to the rows of seating, their emotions radiating off of them. With only six people in the cast, the size of the theater was perfect — allowing the audience to feel as though they are a part of the show themselves, while also making it possible for the actors to really convey their characters.

Diana Goodman (Meg Pryor) truly stole the show. Her versatility as both an actress and vocalist shined. Diana is a very complex character, but Pryor had no issue capturing all of her emotional sides. Her vocal range was phenomenal, which really showed in her solo and group songs. Diana is definitely not an easy character to portray— but Pryor stepped up to the challenge. Her performance was everything I could have hoped it to be, and more.

What makes Next to Normal such a special show is its relatability. It’s a reassuring feeling to know that all families have to deal with some monster. There’s no fantastical adventure, no damsel in distress. All of the characters are established as strong, independent people who could very well exist in the real world.

All aspects of this show came together to tell a tragic, yet beautiful story. All of the performances stood out on their own, while also coming together as one — a true mark of a phenomenal cast. Each part could have easily stood on its own — the acting, the vocals, the set, the pit — but as one, a musical was made. I would definitely go see this show again if I could — and not just because it’s one of my favorite musicals. The performance was so fresh and engaging, whether it was my first, second or my tenth time seeing the show, I would enjoy myself.

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