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REVIEW: Fantastic, Moving Next to Normal (Latté Da)

Kyle Weiler (Gabe), Audrey Mojica (Natalie) and Sayer Keeley (Henry) in Theater Latté Da’s production of Next to Normal, now playing at the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis.

There is a moment, most of the way through Act I of Next to Normal, when the music slows down and the auditorium hushes. Then comes the first audible sniff, and, looking around, eyes glisten with the reflected stagelights as tears stream down cheeks. Erin Capello (as Diana) has utterly reduced the audience to tears – and that’s just one of the supremely powerful moments in this show.

An integral aspect of the Next to Normal set designed by Paul Whitaker includes a visual nod to the original Broadway production. Photo by Dan Norman.

Next to Normal, if you don’t know it, is an intimate musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. After the show hit Broadway in 2008, it was featured at the season’s Tony Awards show – and I immediately bought tickets and refused to read anything else about it, for fear of spoiling what I sensed was one of the most dynamic and emotionally moving shows of the decade. The performance that I saw with the original cast more than delivered, as does Theater Latté Da’s current production, now playing at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. 

A few technical/design issues aside – principally a downright inconsiderate fondness for flashing lights directly in the audience’s eyes, and ear-splitting loud amplification (look for the free earplugs on your way in) – there is little to complain about in artistic director Peter Rothstein’s directorial swan song, before departing to take the reins of Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida. Erin Capello gives a thoroughly engrossing performance as Diana, a housewife struggling with mental illness. (Practically every scene with her and Riley McNutt, as a succession of psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists, is a particular treat.)

Diana (Erin Capello) meets with her rockstar doctor (Riley McNutt). Photo by Dan Norman.

In some productions, Diane’s on-stage husband Dan (played ably by Matt Riehle) is her primary on-stage foil. In Latté Da’s production, it’s her on-stage daughter Natalie, played by Audrey Mojica. Mojica and Capello’s chemistry positively crackles, and Mojica captures both the dynamicism of adolescence and the long-accumulated anguish of the character. 

Saying too much about the plot of Next to Normal would ruin its riveting twists and turns. Suffice it to say that you do not want to arrive late, and that the production is thrilling from start to finish.

Next to Normal plays through July 16 at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis.

Basil Considine