Student Cast of ‘Next to Normal’ Juggles Music and Mental Illness

Julia Fields, Contributing Writer

Tisch New Theatre premiered its new production of “Next to Normal” last Tuesday at the SoHo Playhouse. The four-time Tony-winning musical follows Diana Goodman, who struggles with the tumults of bipolar disorder and its effect on her family. The small cast triumphed with the difficult themes of the show and delivered a truly heart-wrenching performance of what it means to be any member of a dysfunctional family.

The cast and crew used the limited stage space to their advantage with an intricate set design that created the illusion of multiple rooms and different perspectives of the characters. The back wall shuttered to reveal characters on a different plane than the rest. Simple desks, chairs and open panels provided a backdrop to the diverse story unfolding around them.

Though the simple set design proved effective, “Next to Normal” found the greatest success in its characters. Each one in the cast of nine shone in their respective role to make the story come alive.

Tisch School of the Arts drama junior Samantha Tullie tackled the role of Diana, which won Alice Ripley the Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical in 2009. Tullie portrayed the trials and tribulations of dealing with mental illness beautifully. Through her stunning voice and heartbreaking acting, Diana gained empathy from the entire audience for her wish that her family would remain perfect and loving for “just another day.”

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Though tackling weighty themes of loss, mental illness and trauma seems daunting, this performance by college actors was utterly fearless and authentic. Through astounding music and performance, an intimate connection was formed between the actors and the audience.

Stippled with hints of laughter, the emotions of the performers seem raw and genuine throughout. Further emphasized through songs and melodies, the tension between the parties could be felt throughout the entire theater. Attendees clearly felt the emotions along with the actors, making for a triumphantly deep performance. Ushered by happiness and joy, sadness and sympathy, the audience ultimately left impressed by the full spectrum of emotions evoked by the show.

As the show came to an end, its final song, “Light,” pushed for a final wave of optimism.

“There will be light,” the performers sang, and every light in the theater lit up. It was the perfect ending for a show rooted in despair and hopelessness. The show made space for truth and honesty. It also projected ideas of hope and strength in love and relationships. Each actor performed their difficult role with such fervor and determination that it was easy to forget their young age and simply focus on the sheer emotion they possess.

Email Julia Fields at [email protected]

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