Next to Normal review: A musical about mental health that feels too neat and tidy

This Donmar revival of a Broadway smash about a suburban mother struggling with uncontrollable moods has a star turn from Caissie Levy, but fails to capture the messiness of its subject

Alice Saville
Wednesday 23 August 2023 13:27 BST
Jamie Parker and Caissie Levy in ‘Next to Normal’
Jamie Parker and Caissie Levy in ‘Next to Normal’ (Marc Brenner)

Powered by huge, messy emotions and gorgeously, earnestly delivered ballads, Next to Normal is a hit rock musical that landed three Tony awards for its 2009 Broadway run; now comes an intimate revival at the Donmar. A suburban mother has bipolar disorder – or schizophrenia, perhaps – and both her doctors and her family are utterly in the dark about how to handle her uncontrollable moods.

Its creators Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music) have crafted an unusual, wholly kitsch-free kind of musical, one that’s got the narrowed focus and emotional intensity of a kitchen-sink drama.

American mother Diana (Broadway star Caissie Levy) is waiting up for her son Gabe (Jack Wolfe) as his curfew whizzes by, lamenting her dull life (“My son’s a little s***, my husband’s boring”) – as her spouse Dan (Jamie Parker) complains that he’s “living on a latte and a prayer”. Meanwhile, their perfectionist 16-year-old daughter Natalie (Eleanor Worthington Cox) is hammering away at the keyboard, perfecting her Mozart as she dreams of landing a full music scholarship to college and escaping her parents’ grip.

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