The critically acclaimed rock musical Next to Normal is hitting the stage at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati for a second run now through July 1st. And what's even better than a second run? That would be a second run with almost the same cast as the last run at ETC.
Next to Normal explores some hard-hitting realities of mental illness, from the spouse who feels helpless, the children who can't connect to the sufferer, and the one suffering who can't get better, no matter how much she may wish. The show has many layers – exploring mental illness with a "typical" suburban family and controversial treatments, along with tragedy, romance…and something else that can't be discussed without ruining a surprise in the plot.
Diana has trouble with unresolved grief after the unexpected death of a child when, as said in the show, she was still a child herself. Jessica Hendy brings light to Diana's character. She gets you on Diana's side, keeping you engrossed in her struggles. And if she doesn't have you hooked from her first breakdown, she'll get you with her emotional and powerful song, "I Miss the Mountains."
Diana's relationship with her husband, Dan, also suffering yet almost suffocating, isn't the best, as you can guess. This time around, Bruce Cromer, who brings much emotion to the role, portrays Dan.
Mike Schwitter plays Gabe once again and his performance is just as good as the last. His voice is wonderful, though sometimes his voice seemed to get a little lost under the others.
Diana also has an overly anxious and overachieving daughter who will earn good grades or die trying. Mia Gentile also returns as Natalie. She also has a powerhouse voice and a great acting moment when an emotional connection is made with Diana towards the end. Nick Cearley, who is even better than I remember from last time, plays Natalie's love interest.
Two doctors, Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden, oversee Diana's treatment and the roles are perfectly casted with one single returning actor, Charlie Clark. Clark has an excellent presence as the doctors and watch out when he gets his chance to rock!
It may sound like rather grim subject material, but the cast brings heart and light into it with amazing talent and emotional portrayals. And the set, reminiscent of the original Broadway production, only heightens the thrill of the show.
Performances run Tuesday through Sunday. Tuesday-Thursday: 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday: 8:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 2:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.cincyetc.com.