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Next to Normal from Firefly Musical Productions

If you’re a fan of Ariana Grande and/or Liz Gillies, you’ve probably heard of Next to Normal. Both celebrities are huge fans of the 2008 rock musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and have made a number of videos of themselves singing the songs. The most recent (I think) was just earlier this year, when they karaoke-d to all the songs and posted a few of the videos on Twitter. None of this is actually that relevant, but the point is, although I’d never seen the show myself, I had heard of it. So, when I saw on Facebook that Firefly Musical Productions, a new student-run musical theater company at the University of Minnesota, was doing Next to Normal, I bought tickets immediately.

From what I could tell from their Facebook page, this was Firefly’s second production, preceded by The Last Five Years, which just so happens to be a favorite of mine. Next to Normal was an ambitious choice for the young performers. The musical tells the story of Diana (Ellen Roubik), a mother struggling with bipolar disorder and the weight her illness puts on her family. The plot is heavy, to say the least, riddled with medications, shock therapy, suicide attempts, trauma, drug abuse, and a load of familial pain. And the cast pulled it off pretty damn well.

Sure, it wasn’t Broadway-flawless, and it took a couple songs for the cast, comprised of sophomores and juniors, to hit their stride. But once they did, they delivered a strong and captivating performance. The women of this show were the clear standouts; Roubik made a beautiful Diana, capturing her heart, her complexity, and her disease. She’s also got a hell of a voice, and she shone in any song that allowed her to belt. Diana’s daughter Natalie (Annie Bush) was fantastic in every scene. She oozed teenage angst and was just the perfect amount of irritating. (She was playing a seventeen year-old, after all.) Without revealing any spoilers, the play allows Natalie to change throughout her mother’s treatment while still retaining her core, the thing that stays true about her in any scenario – a deep love for her parents. Bush acted Natalie’s ups and downs exactly as they were intended.

I'll be keeping my eye on this young theater company, and I highly suggest you do, too. So far, their choices in plays have been impressive; Next to Normal is a ridiculously entertaining play that, in my opinion, does exactly what theater is intended to do. It reflects humanity.

And, since Ariana Grande is kind of the reason I was intrigued by this show in the first place, I think it’s fair to say: thank u, next to normal.


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