Better Than Normal

Review of Next to Normal at Balagan Theatre by Isabella de Leon

Next To Normal is a Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical about a middle-aged mother, Diana Goodman (played by Beth DeVries), diagnosed with bipolar illness, and how her illness affects the rest of her family. Her husband Dan (Auston James), daughter Natalie (Keaton Whittaker), and son Gabe (Kody Bringman) all appear to live normal lives, but are, in fact, nowhere near normal.

Balagan Theatre, which has brought a wide range of amazing musicals to Seattle, including [title of show] and Avenue Q, Spring Awakening and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, has again done a great job with this production.

Over the course of the play, Diana’s grasp on reality becomes more and more shaky, and she survives on pills and treatment from her monotonous doctors: Doctor Madden and Doctor Fine (both played by Ryan McCabe). She loves her family, but a tragic event has damaged her and her relationship with them. As the story explores her relationship with her husband, it also focuses on a parallel story of Natalie and her pot-smoking boyfriend, Henry (played by Ryan Hotes). The family seems to get further from normal as the play progresses, particularly Diana, and the question is raised: "You wonder which is worse, the symptom or the cure."

Photo by Jeff Carpenter Photography

DeVries is a very strong lead, and she does an amazing job making you feel her character’s struggles and pain. All the performers sang well, although, on opening night, there were a few pitchy notes with all the singers. There were also moments when the music nearly drowned out Whittaker. But their voices captured all of the strong emotions experienced by their characters. There are barely any moments to smile about, and I found myself in tears from the beginning to the end.

The show is filled with wonderful music, performed on a lovely combination of guitar, piano, and strings, and memorable songs. Especially good are "Just Another Day," the opening song that introduces each of the characters, their points of view on their lives and the way they live them, "Superboy and the Invisible Girl," explaining Natalie’s feelings of being the "unimportant" second born child, and "Maybe (Next to Normal)," a song that centered on the relationship between Diana and her daughter.

Photo by Jeff Carpenter Photography

Maybe we can’t connect to having a bipolar mother who makes sandwiches on the floor, but anyone can connect to a family struggling to figure out what it means to be a family. During the show’s finale, all of the actors sing the song "Light," concluding the theme of light that appears throughout the show.

Go to the Balagan Theatre and watch these amazing actors in this heart-wrenching show. I love musicals, and Next To Normal is now one of my top favorites. Again, don’t expect it to be a happy ride, but do expect to fall in love--with the music, characters, and story. That’s much better than normal.

Next To Normal

Balagan Theatre

Through March 2
More info at

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