THEATER: A brilliant and complex musical: ‘Next to Normal’ on stage at Media Theatre

Krissy Fraelich plays the role of Diana in “Next To Normal” at Media Theatre. The production is on stage through Feb. 5.
Krissy Fraelich plays the role of Diana in “Next To Normal” at Media Theatre. The production is on stage through Feb. 5. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Diana has been dealing with her issues for many years. She lives with her very supportive husband Dan and her brilliant teenage daughter Natalie. She seeks treatment to remedy her issues but at times, they are too large to handle. A demon in her mind, the loss of her infant son Gabe, almost 17 years earlier, haunts her. It’s a powerful drama, but oddly enough, though the story has been written as a musical, it is not over theatrical- it is painfully real.

Playwright/Lyricist Brian Yorkey’s words do not fall into stereotypical escapism or casual treatment of dysfunction in a family. He guides us through the trials each character struggles with as they deal with their grief and denial. We are thrust inside the family as they try to understand and remedy a situation they can not fully wrap their arms around.

Near the beginning, daughter Natalie has a new boyfriend, Henry, and she is discovering drugs herself. In a most fascinating manner, this brilliant script allows the teenagers to almost foretell the ordeal of Diana and Dan in eerily portentous scenes.

Meanwhile, Dan is doing the best he can as he stands by his marriage vows to be there for his wife. But even as he seeks the best treatment for her, there are times when he too falls into denial. The story, however, is built around Diana. She is the one who is next to normal. After all, what is normal? There are times when she functions normally, when she is able to be the “good wife.” And then there are times when she cannot. Doctors suggest alternatives to the complicated issues at hand, but “Next to Normal” does not pretend to have the answers.

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What is amazing is that this complex show is a musical! It’s not the kind of musical that will leave you coming away humming the tunes. Each song and scene creates unique moments in this family’s journey. The best way to summarize this is to simply list some of the titles. “Let There Be Light, Just Another Day, Who’s Crazy, He’s Not Here, You Don’t Know, Open Your Eyes, I’ve Been, A Light in the Dark” — these are just in the first act. In presenting these challenging and complex issues, the cast is outstanding.

Krissy Fraelich as Diana, not only has a beautiful and powerful voice, she is also a very fine actor as she portrays the wide range of Diana’s bipolar nature. Ben Dibble as Dan, is equally effective as he tries to deal with his own losses. These two actors are local treasures who would be worth the price of any ticket in any show, and here, they shine together.

But “Next to Normal” is not just about the two leads. This amazing ensemble is completed by Molly Sorensen (Natalie), Ronnie Keller (as Gabe who haunts the stage throughout), and Christopher Infantino, who plays Natalie’s charming boyfriend. Director Geoffrey Goldberg has put together a first rate show on a stage with no more than an extra level, but which packs the wallop of a classic play like Arthur Miller’s, “Death of a Salesman.” Attention must be paid.

Media Theatre, 104 E. State Street, Media, PA 19063, 610-891-0100, mediatheatre.org , through Feb. 25.