From the opening bars to its closing refrain, the Fort Salem Theater’s electrifying production of the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning "Next to Normal" builds in suspense, drawing viewers into a hot mess of family relations where everyone is holding onto something far beyond when they should.
Directed by Kyle West, the cast of six functions as a cohesive ensemble with a natural physical and emotional intimacy that rarely feels awkward or forced. The actors move nimbly around and through the pieces of a two-story unit set that seamlessly serves every scene, helped along by precision lighting from John Norine Jr. Their voices blend and soar to a dynamic pop-rock score whose musical lines cut to the heart of the cast’s emotional tangles again and again.
As Diana, veteran actor Rebecca Paige anchors the show. From delusional outburst to clarifying calm, Paige is always believable. Her voice morphs from a brassy belt to a soft floating bell, in sync with her emotional and spiritual journey. Noah Casner as Gabe is a haunting presence. Whenever he appears, the stage crackles with intensity. Sam Luke, as Diana’s steadfast spouse, is a buttoned-down dad whose inability to deal with his own grief and loneliness hinders everyone else from dealing with theirs. Kallie Ann Tarkleson, as the neglected Natalie, carries her pent-up anxiety and anger so tightly that her body seems to vibrate. Noah Heimbach’s Henry, the unsuspected hero of the show, provides an honest and calming charm. And Marc Christopher plays Dr. Madden with a nuance that lets you know that he doesn’t know what he wishes he did.
While it was unsettling at first to be seated in a full house after a year of COVID isolation, the joy of being at a live performance quickly returned. By the end of the show, the audience needed no prompting in standing to its feet in celebration of these heart-felt performances.
Next to Normal. Fort Salem Theater, 11 E Broadway, Salem, NY: July 30, 31, Aug. 1. Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $15 to 30. Some social distance seating available. Masks required for unvaccinated patrons. More information: fortsalem.com