Theatre Information

Cadence Theatre Next to Normal

By • May 1st, 2013 • Category: Reviews, Virginia
Next to Normal
Cadence Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Virginia Rep Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Virginia Rep Center – November Theatre, Richmond, VA
Through May 18th
2:20 with one intermission
$28/Discounts Available
Reviewed April 28th, 2013

Once again my day job as a special education teacher has crossed paths with my theater experience. Cadence Theater Company in partnership with Virginia Repertory Theater is exploring what life is like for people with mental illnesses and those who love them in their current production of Next to Normal at the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre, Marjorie Arenstein Stage.

Having worked with individuals who have been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, I have seen people who “talked” to Kurt Cobain, sanitized every inch of their house only to start over when they were done, and both attempted and successfully committed suicide.

Next To Normal follows the struggle of Diana, a housewife portrayed by Broadway veteran Andrea Rivette, a suburban housewife suffering with bipolar disorder. Rivette is riveting in displaying Diana’s introspective journey and feelings of being depressed, anxious, lost and confused. Her pain is real and her vocals stellar. However, she does not quite let go in Diana’s manic moments, leaving the audience to fill in the highs that mark bipolar disorder’s roller coaster ride in contrast to the lows.

The rest of the cast is just as powerful in their roles of Diana’s family, and those around them. Terence Sullivan is strong yet subtle as Diana’s son Gabe. He possesses the youthful charm and likeability of Finn on Glee. His body language and facial expressions enhance the emotion of his voice in each of his vocals. Duke Lafoon displays the anguish, confusion, and emptiness of her husband Dan, who tries to carry on as if everything is all right. Christie Jackson gives pathos and honesty to Diana’s 16-year-old daughter, Natalie and John Mincks adds both humor and emotion to Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry. Russell Rowland rounds out the cast with his booming voice and domineering presence as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine (playing multiple doctors exemplifies how in Diana’s life, all the doctors seem the same).

The true to life book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey explore questions like “what IS normal?” and “which is worse, the symptoms or the cures?” Sadly, it is still trial and error in treating mental illness and the terrible side effects often result in patients ceasing their medication, or self-medicating with alcohol and drugs, leading to even more damage in their lives. The music by Tom Kitt adds to the range of the emotions from angry rock to tear-filled ballads.

Brian C. Barker’s modernistic set is captivating, with three levels, moving curtains, reflective glass doors and video screens created a visually stunning presentation. K. Jenna Ferree’s hues of orange, green and purple lighting enhance Director and Choreographer Chase Kniffen’s staging. The pace is brisk and the action enthralling and constantly moving as we walk through the spiraling effects of drugs and electro shock treatments on Diana. Sue Griffin’s costumes were appropriate to the piece and the characters.

As with any production of this magnitude, there were occasional technical glitches; a late lighting cue or an actor temporarily moving out of their lighting, and mic levels that were sometimes unbalanced, leaving Dan’s vocals overpowering Diana’s or Gabe’s at times. However, I saw the second day of the production, so I am sure these will be worked out.

If you want to see a production that is both vocally memorable and emotionally powerful, then to quote the title of one of the show’s songs, Next To Normal is “Perfect For You.”

Photo Gallery

Andrea Rivette (Diana) and Russell Rowland (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine) Duke Lafoon (Dan) and Andrea Rivette (Diana)
Andrea Rivette (Diana) and Russell Rowland (Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine)
Duke Lafoon (Dan) and Andrea Rivette (Diana)
Duke Lafoon (Dan) and Andrea Rivette (Diana) Andrea Rivette (Diana) and Duke Lafoon (Dan)
Duke Lafoon (Dan) and Andrea Rivette (Diana)
Andrea Rivette (Diana) and Duke Lafoon (Dan)
John Mincks (Henry) and Christie Jackson (Natalie) Terence Sullivan (Gabe) and Andrea Rivette (Diana)
John Mincks (Henry) and Christie Jackson (Natalie)
Terence Sullivan (Gabe) and Andrea Rivette (Diana)

Photos by Jason Collins Photography


  • Diana: Andrea Rivette
  • Gabe: Terence Sullivan
  • Dan: Duke Lafoon
  • Natalie: Christie Jackson
  • Henry: John Mincks
  • Dr Madden/Dr. Fine: Russell Rowland

Production Staff

  • Direction, Choreography and Video Design: Chase Kniffen
  • Musical Direction: Kim Fox
  • Scenic Design: Brian C. Barker
  • Lighting Design: K. Jenna Ferree
  • Costume Design: Sue Griffin
  • Stage Management: Wendy Vandergrift
  • Scenic Artists: Lara Koplin and Adam Dorland
  • Property Design: McLean Jesse
  • Sound Design: Matthew Landwehr

Disclaimer: Cadence Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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