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Final days for 'Normal'

normalI am a University of Texas graduate, so I paid attention when Austin began chanting “Keep Austin Weird.” I have been musing lately that an authentic "brand" for New Orleans would be “Next To Normal.” After all, no one who has been here for more than a few hours would call our greater population and environs exactly normal.

Fortunately, since I don’t advocate branding any city, it is no problem that “Next To Normal” is already taken. Broadway vets Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey nabbed it for their own musical in 2009. For their efforts, “Next To Normal” garnered three 2009 Tony Awards and, in an odd stroke of events, a Pulitzer for Drama. (As an aside, the Pulitzer Committee from Columbia University chose N2N even though it was not one of the three recommendations from their stellar jury that year….quel scandale!)

NOLA-based contemporary theatrical company in residence at the Contemporary Arts Center, Southern Rep, is currently featuring “Next To Normal” as the final production of its impressive 2012-13 season.  Having seen the NYC production on Broadway, I can say that our local team has hit a homerun.

The basic storyline follows a suburban housewife/mother who suffers from bipolar disorder and the family who tries to make life normal around her. Diana, the mother played with heartbreaking despair and amazing vocal dexterity by Broadway-vet-come-home Leslie Castay, is following the unfortunately too-common script of bouncing from psychiatrist to pharmacy, from one numbing pill to the next, and from up to down moods at a dizzying pace. Her husband, Dan, played by Richard Hutton, and her daughter and son, played by Madison Kerth and Clint Johnson respectively, either prop her up, or stay away in an attempt to keep a day to day existence that cannot be normal, at least next to normal.

At various points during the production, Diana sings about the possible romantic, though completely hallucinated relationship with her psycho pharmacologist (My Psychopharmocologist and I) in a medley in which Dan sings about lamenting the 20-something romance he and Diana used to have, but would just “settle for a wife who can drive" (Who’s Crazy). Meanwhile, daughter Natalie escapes to her piano and sings about how learning to play Mozart expertly enough will pull her out of her current situation, and spring her into a prestigious music school (Something  Else). The son, Gabriel….well, to explain how he copes would be a spoiler.

Aimee Hayes is the fearless and savvy Artistic Director of Southern Rep who added this unique musical to the company’s drama line-up, and I thank her for the risk taken, and offer kudos for choosing the talented Blake Cohely (who normally is guiding NOCCA students through the magical world of musical theater) as the crucially important director to form this production.

See it!  You only have a few more performances.  Spend a couple of hours in the stage world that is next to normal, and then walk outside to revel in the real one that is life on the street in New Orleans.

The Southern Rep production of Next to Normal runs through June 9 at the CAC, 900 Camp St. Click here for ticket information.