There is a buzz in the air and clear excitement about as I attended Student Run Musical Theatre’s production of Next to Normal this past Friday night at The Performance Center at Wagner College on Staten Island. The production not only was the first collegiate production of the Broadway show in the nation but has redefined student productions at the Wagner Campus as it not only took on a challenging piece to mount but did it with the biggest success yet for any student production at Wagner College.
Next to Normal is a musical that features a book and lyrics Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. The musical follows the story of a family as they deal with the mother’s bipolar disorder and the continuous disturbance it causes to their everyday lives. The musical also touches upon suicide, drug abuse, grieving, loss and many other subjects anyone can really relate to. This was my first time ever seeing Next to Normal and I have to admit, I fell in love with the piece. I’ve always been one for stories that just rip your heart out and leave it on the floor and that is exactly what this production does. From the music to the scenes, Next to Normal is so believable its easy to conceive something may happen to a family you know or even your own.
Student Run Musical Theatre’s production of Next to Normal has redefined student productions at the Wagner College campus. From a multi-level set to lights to microphones, it is clear the undertaking that was needed for the first ever collegiate production of this show in the nation has been met that on every level with excellence by SRMT. Every single aspect of this production was clearly though through and executed. A major congratulations to the entire cast and crew is deserved not only for putting on such an epic production but doing it with excellence as well.
Marielle Greguski, who stars as Diana, has grown since seeing her only weeks ago as Cathy in The Last Five Years. Her voice continues to blow my mind with outstanding vocals that especially shinned on some of her best songs “You Don’t Know” and “I Miss the Mountains”. Her acting improved as well definitely helping as she clearly had the maternal aspect of Diana down. Steven Babino, who stars as Dan, is outstanding in his role playing the father figure who is stuck in the center of a never ending mess. Babino’s vocals and acting were spot on leaving many hurting for him as the show ends. “He’s Not Here” and “I Am the One” are great moments where he shines showing the love for his family and love for Diana. Babino’s dedication to the production is evident and clear with the passion he plays in the show.
Timothy McMillan, as Gabe, has blown my mind yet again since seeing him weeks ago as well as Jamie in The Last Five Years. I’ve decided that McMillan could sing the phone book and I would listen to his outstanding and impressive vocals at the age he is. His acting has definitely improved since last time as well. However, the role he is in isn’t one that require some over the top acting. McMillan easily steals the stage and even sometimes seduces the audience with his vocals on “I’m Alive” and “I Am the One”. Allison Dufford,who stars as Natalie, gives her greatest performance yet on stage. Clearly disturbed and upset by the surroundings she has been put into, Duffords character’s decline and return to normal life is disturbing to watch as the girl who clearly isn’t noticed in the home despite countless efforts. Her vocals as especially great shining on “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” and “Maybe (Next to Normal)” showing great moments for Dufford to throw in the emotion of the entire show into back bone songs that define her character.
Pat Dutton as Henry finds great moments to shine in the production despite majoring in Pre-Law currently at Wagner. And while I do have to say he made awkward acting choices at times, which mostly consisted of him not seeming connected to the show at all, he did connect with Dufford in all their scenes which is so clearly important at the Natalie and Henry story unfolds through out the piece. Dutton does have great vocals though through with the never ending “Hey” selections and in “Perfect for You”. I like when one is surprised by new talent and thats exactly what Dutton did. Cameron Sammartano who stars as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden is however overshadowed through the piece. I felt myself loosing his vocals and even stage presence sometimes in larger numbers where the doctor is still so important. “Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling”, one of the biggest doctor portions of the show, was fantastic with all other cast members but I easily lost Sammartano’s vocals and presence on stage. The role needed a more prominent figure that stood out for the audience.
When it comes to the technical aspects of this production, Student Run Musical Theatre has pulled out all the stops. A multi-level set fills the stage to help create levels of the house including two door frames used for entrances and exits. Scene changes that take place are barely noticed do to the clever use of the space. While normal lighting for the stage area is provided through the Performance Center at Wagner College, the set is also home to a variety of clip lights. Filled with blue and normal light bulbs, the production uses these through out to create shadows and shapes of the home in a clever fashion. They are also used to isolate many of the lights to create different locations through out the piece. Great choices all around that all only helped enhance the productions experience. Also, another great aspect added was an updated sound system from The Last Five Years. Wired microphones still are on stage to pick up voices but cause no intrusion to the piece like they did in The Last Five Years. Also, three wireless microphones are used and passed off through out the production which allow for actors to really just go for it, which is fantastic. Of course, there are sound issues with feedback at times but I don’t think that is what matters. I can hear the actors and what they’re saying/singing and to me that is what matters.
I’d like to wish a major congratulations to Billy Aberle, the director of the production, and Chris Sabol who is the musical director for the production. Both who have taken on a huge responsibility of the first ever college production of this piece have scored in all categories. Their dedication to the piece is evident through the story being told, the outstanding vocals and their production which left not a dry eye in the room both nights. Billy Aberle deserves credit for directing a fantastic piece that requires so much depth at not only such a young age himself but with a young cast as well. The story is clearly told and grips the audience each night as they watch the family fall apart. Chris Sabol has done it again and has really outdone himself this time with not only incredible cast vocals but an outstanding pit to back it all up. The vocals are one of the brightest parts of show and Sabol deserves major credit for music directing an epic piece musically but making it sound incredible at that.
Overall, congratulations to everyone who was involved in the Student Run Musical Theatre production of Next to Normal. The piece, on a new level for student productions at Wagner, has not only left many amazed – but many wondered “How are you going to top that?”. A new day, or Just Another Day, has bloomed for Student Run Musical Theatre from this production. And that is one day that is only truly filled with light. Luner on Theatre brings you all your need to know theatre news. Check Out Our Previous Next to Normal coverage here. As well as all of our Student Production coverage you need to know. Luner on Theatre will continue to bring you all your Student Run Musical Theatre news as well as their Spring 2012 Season! Stay tuned for that and more!
The Creative Team and Cast of Next to Normal