"Next to Normal," the darkly entertaining musical infused with light humor now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, until Oct. 6, is a gripping stage favor at its finest.
It challenges, sharing the mental state of others rarely explored, let alone, placed in the story spotlight of a Broadway production.
It uses a neatly woven tale of sorrow and would-be salvation via medical treatment to grapple with the torment of mental illness.
Admittedly, it's not the ticket for the taste of every audience and potential ticket patron. But it's an important, well told telling, every person should experience.
I have seen only one other run of this show, in May 2011 for the national Broadway tour that played Chicago.
I was entranced by what I watched, while some of my Times colleagues who also attended the media opening, tagged it as "depressing."
Seeing the new production, directed by Drury Lane Theatre Artistic Director William Osetek, is just as nearly mind-capturing my second time around.
It stars Susie McMonagle in the tough leading role as the tortured Diana, who struggles each day with her fragile mental state, while stumbling through needed day-to-day tasks of caring for her family, which includes husband Dan, played here by Rod Thomas, mysterious son Gabe, a fantastic break-out performance by energized Josh Tolle, and overachieving daughter Natalie, played nicely here by Callie Johnson. The family has the benefit of a helping hand and support from Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine, both played by versatile Colte Julian.
Billed as "a rock musical," from the opening number of "Just Another Day" to Diana's ballad "I Miss the Mountains" about her dependency on meds, there are many defining moments that emerge as the characters grow and change. And Tolle's rendition of his character Gabe's anthem, "I'm Alive," is nothing short of electrifying. While I felt Johnson as a teen daughter and actor Skyler Adams as her high school boyfriend seemed a bit long in the tooth for such casting, the story and work as an ensemble helped me suspend any disbelief.
This production is choreographed by Jeff Award winner Tammy Mader, with an intricate set by Scenic Designer Scott Davis. "Next to Normal" features music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey.
This is a musical for any person who has ever, at some point, experienced a dark corner of the recesses of one's own mind. Isn't that everyone?
The performance schedule for "Next to Normal" is 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and 8 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $35 to $49 with lunch and dinner theater packages ranging from $50 to $74. Student group tickets start as low as $30, and senior citizen tickets start at $32 for matinees and $47 for a matinee luncheon package. FYI: (630) 530-0111 and drurylane.com.