Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Let There Be Light: next to normal at Yellow Tree Theatre (Guest Post!)

next to normal

I finally ventured to the Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo to see the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning Drama and Musical, next to normal, with music by Tom Kitt and Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey, both Tony Award winners.

I had regretfully missed the national tour of the show in 2011 (featuring Alice Ripley as Diana), and jumped at the opportunity when I saw that Yellow Tree was doing the show. The subject of mental illness is indeed unusual material for a pop/rock musical, but, ultimately it all works as a transcendent and cathartic experience.

Lucas Wells and Jessica Lind Peterson
Photo by Michal Daniel 
The musical’s primary focus is the disintegrating mental state of the mother, Diana, played by Jessica Lind Peterson in an enlightening and subtly aware performance. Understandably, Diana’s ongoing battle with manic depression has created an enormous dysfunction in this family's ability to relate to
each other and also to people outside the family. Odd subject matter for a musical, right?

Ultimately, as the piece unfolds, we feel the restorative power of a glimmer of light in all this abysmal darkness in an uncompromising finale. The play also encompasses the grieving process and the inability to let go and move forward. It also demonstrates the frustration of wanting to help, but in the end, being helpless. We often aren't always capable of saving the ones we love.

The entire cast was excellent in complicated and emotional roles. The score was effectively well sung by all with some tricky harmonizing and accomplished duet singing in the mix. To me, it didn't seem like it was a particularly easy score to vocalize and the lyrics are such an essential part of the storyline.

The production was well conceived on the small Yellow Tree stage, with appropriate staging, lighting, and costumes. It’s such an intimate story that, after seeing Yellow Tree's production, it’s hard for me to imagine it on a large proscenium stage. I felt so lucky to have the chance to see it up close and oh, so personal.

I saw the second to last performance of the run, but look forward to heading back to Yellow Tree in the future. Looks like a nice new season (their eighth!) coming up, including Dancing at Lughnasa and Violet! (Contributed by rickjallen)