Runaway Stage’s Next to Normal at the Black Box Theatre in West Sacramento is excellent. The show deals with a woman’s struggle with bipolar disorder and her family’s struggle to cope. Though there is humor in the piece, the content gets pretty hefty. Grief, drug abuse, suicide and complex relationships pile up on an already difficult subject matter. But it’s a nice change to see some theater with some weight in it every so often.
Next to Normal’s cast is small, and must be mighty for the show to work. Runaway delivered!
Andrea Thorpe leads as Diana, and gives a convincing and sincere performance. The music in the show seemed written for her voice.
Darryl Strohl-De Herrera plays Dan, Diana’s long-suffering husband. He is a solid presence in the show—a necessary counter to Diana—and his acting balanced Dan’s love for his wife and his frustration over her mental illness. The night I saw the show, he was struggling for some of the higher notes. However, SN&R’s Jim Carnes said Strohl-De Herrera “possesses the finest lyric singing voice you could ask for,” which makes me think that I might’ve caught an off night.
Michael Rovias plays Gabe, Dan and Diana’s son. He rocked. His voice lent itself beautifully to the difficult music, and his character’s persistence was perfectly unsettling. I’ve had his rendition of “I’m Alive” stuck in my head since seeing the show. Natalie, Dan and Diana’s daughter, is played by Kristina Dizon. Her voice is lovely, and her tender moments in the show—specifically “Hey” #1, #2, and #3—were highlights.
Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend, is played by Tylen Einweck, who seems an effortless match to Dizon’s Natalie. His on-stage rapport with Dizon made their relationship believable and sweet.
Both doctors in the show are played by Taylor Presnall, whose acting is as fantastic as his singing. I wish he’d had more stage time.
I liked the concept for the show’s set, but some of the larger furniture pieces made for awkward set changes and sight-line obstructions. I recommend sitting at least a few rows back to avoid this.
That said, this is the best show I’ve seen at Runaway Stage Productions in a long time. The show itself is very good, and this is a solid production. Well done, RSP.
Next to Normal plays through August 16 at the West Sacramento Community Center Black Box Theatre.