Thursday night I waited in line to snag a seat at the Mixed Blood Theatre. People of all shapes and sizes, many different walks of life, and a wide age range made their way into the theater to find a chair for the production of “Next to Normal”. It was my first time at Mixed Blood. Theater can be expensive and they have an incredible program where you can see the show for free. It’s called radical hospitality. They have a number of tickets you can purchase for $20 that will ensure you a seat, otherwise, get there early and you can go for free. No one has an assigned seat so you can pick your own.
My sister always jokes with me because I love traditional musicals. To me, I love leaving a theater with a big smile on my face after watching a triple threat performance. However, over the years I have started to appreciate and enjoy shows with more depth that cause you to leave the theater questioning, thinking, and stewing over the content. “Next to Normal” is one of those pieces. “Great theatre is a vehicle for artistry, entertainment, education, and affecting change in attitude, behaviour and/or policy.” Director Jack Reuler
In 2009 I saw the original Broadway cast of “Next to Normal” with Alice Ripley and J. Robert Spencer. Going into the show I had no idea what to expect so I was a little shocked at the content and the portrayal of the illness, bipolar disorder. After the show I purchased the soundtrack and began to fall in love with it. Last year I saw it again at the Ordway where Alice Ripley was the mother in the touring cast as well. The more I see it, the more I peel back the layers and discover the brilliance. Seeing the show at Mixed Blood gave me even more to think about. That convinces me that it is a great work of art.
“Next to Normal” is the story of a family as they cope with their mothers struggle with bipolar disorder. There is drug abuse, attempted suicide, grieving a loss, and family/marital issues. The cast at Mixed Blood did a great job with the show. Aditi Kapil plays the mother and was a superb actress. She was believable and played the part well but not over the top which could easily be done. The father played by Thomas W. Jones II was a compassionate man. He loved his wife and it showed. Ricardo Vazquez played the son. He had some very hard songs and executed them well. “I’m Alive” is one of my favorites and he hammered it out with gusto. Brittany Bradford played the daughter. She portrayed a hurting teenager and acted the part beautifully. Tom Reed who played the girl’s boyfriend was my favorite. He was kind of geeky in a cute way.
The father and boyfriend were men who fought for the women they loved. Although the mother and daughter were struggling, the men cared for them and were by their side through it all. To me it painted a beautiful picture of relationships. Sometimes someone is weak and the other helps them. Although this was a dysfunctional family and there were many things wrong, it just reminded me there is good even in bad and hard situations. The boyfriend sings “Perfect for you, I will be perfect for you. So you could go crazy, or I could go crazy, it’s true. Sometimes life is insane but crazy I know I can do. Cause crazy is perfect.” It was nice to see that despite all the hardships in life people can walk through it together.
The set was minimal and made perfect sense for the show. Mixed Blood’s smaller theater allows the audience to see the show up close. On Broadway there were risers for characters to move about. For this production there were different sections of the stage and it worked just as well. The band was absolutely phenomenal. There were a few songs where I turned to watch them jam out. I could not help but dance a bit in my seat. The music in the show is one that grows on you over time. The more I listen to it, the more treasures I find.
“Next to Normal” is playing through November 11th. For more information on the Mixed Blood Theatre take a look at their website or call:
Box office: (612) 338-6131