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Next to Normal

A musical about mental illness sounds like a tough sell, but the Pulitzer-Prize and Tony-Award-winning show Next to Normal makes the subject matter enthralling. The show is about one woman’s struggle with mental health and her fight to find a balance between spinning out of control and complete numbness.

It’s a story so raw and intimate you almost feel like a voyeur watching another person’s personal hell unfold in front of you. The impact of Diana’s breakdowns on her family is startling; every aspect of their life is shaped by her disease. Their loneliness is visceral and you can’t help but feel their pain. The set is unique and jarring; angled screens hang from the ceiling and stark shades of black and white cover ever surface. The world created is a representation of Diana’s life, off-kilter and lacking in all color.

The six-person cast is led by Emily Ristine. She stars as Diana, a woman with bi-polar disorder stemming from a tragedy that happened years before. Her internal struggle is usually kept in check by medication, but occasionally her highs and lows get out of control, tipping the scales in her mental teeter-totter. Ristine was fun and playful in last year’s Avenue Q, but this performance is on a completely different level. She blows the audience away with her heartbreaking portrayal of a woman betrayed by her own mind.

The rest of the production is packed with incredible performances. Charlie Clark plays Diana’s husband Dan, a man grasping at straws to hold his world together. His duet with Ristine in “How Could I Ever Forget?” is one of the best moments in the show. Diana’s son is played by Will Hutcheson with an intensity that’s mesmerizing. He has an impressive vocal range and gives a powerful performance.

It’s hard to explain quite why Next to Normal is as good as it is, but needless to say you should see for yourself.

Don't Miss the Show 
For more information about the Phoenix Theatre, visit The theater is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, just off Massachusetts Ave. 

Performances: The show runs until Feb. 24 and offers five performances a week. Wednesday and Thursday shows begin at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturdays begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets: To purchase tickets, call (317) 635-PLAY (7529). Prices range from $23 to $33. The play has one intermission and includes adult language and issues.

Photos Courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre