Not too sure about the so-called New Normal, but the new “Next to Normal,” at Anaheim’s intimate Chance Theater through Feb. 27, is a smash. Granted, a show about mental illness will not be everyone’s cuppa, and this Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical might hit too close to home for anyone who’s lost a child.
Brian Yorkey’s intelligent book and lyrics are a cut above what passes for musical theatre these days, and Tom Kitt’s music provides solid underpinning. Matthew McCray’s direction is exactly right at times and nothing less than dazzling at other times.
There isn’t a weak link in the hugely talented cast. Much of the weight falls on Jocelyn A. Brown’s shoulders, as Diana, the mother of the family at the play’s center and the emotional lynchpin of the show, and she’s a rock. Tym Brown is a tower of strength as Dan, the father, with an impressive vocal range. Jaylen Baham gives a powerhouse performance as the son, earmarking this young man as someone to watch in the future; his solo “I’m Alive” is one of the show’s standouts.
Angie Chavez’s emotional honesty ensures the daughter doesn’t get lost in the story, and Ron Hastings has his moment of glory as the doctor. Joe Holbrook’s scenic design enhances the show while Stephen Hulsey’s music direction could use some fine tuning; mainly, it’s too loud. Awards aside, the show itself is too long; a little judicious trimming on the part of Kitt and Yorkey would have improved it. www.ChanceTheater.com.
If you prefer the comfort of your living room at present—and who can blame you?—I can highly recommend a pair of Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVDs you may have missed. Connoisseurs of film noir will want to grab copies of “The Beast Must Die” (La Bestia Debe Morir”) and “The Bitter Stems” (“Los Tallos Amargos”), especially if you didn’t catch these Argentinian dramas on TCM’s Noir Alley.
These long lost gems, made in 1952 and 1956 respectively and beautifully restored by UCLA with funding from the Film Noir Foundation, are brilliantly photographed. They really excel when it comes to storytelling, ratcheting up the suspense bit by bit as the films draw to their unpredictable conclusions. (Indeed, the meaning of “The Bitter Stems” is not evident until the final moment). Bonus material includes intros by TCM’s Eddie Muller, audio commentaries and illustrated souvenir booklets. www.flickeralley.com.
Jaylen Baham and Jocelyn A. Brown in “Next to Normal,” at the Chance. Photo by Camryn Long.