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Theater review: Town and Country’s “Next to Normal” features talented cast

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Mental illness is nothing to laugh about, but it is something you can sing about, as demonstrated in the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock musical “Next to Normal,” the current production by Town and Country Players in Buckingham.

Director Nancy Ridgeway is a master storyteller who embraces poignant small-cast productions like “Next to Normal,” which tells its story with a great deal of song and some dialogue.

Most families have had some experience with mental illness and will recognize the pain of the Goodman family as they deal with mom, Diana, whose bipolar disorder has lasted for 16 years.

Excelling in the lead role is Melissa Angelo-Schiumo, an experienced actress and singer who never misses a note while performing this intense and complex role. Her performance alone makes this show worth seeing.

Also impressive was Nicole Telesco portraying Diana’s troubled daughter, Natalie, who runs from, then embraces her fears that she has inherited her mother’s mental illness. Telesco is at the top of her game singing and acting in this role.

Brian Jason Kelly evokes sympathy during his heartfelt performance in the crucial role of Diana’s stalwart husband, Dan, who bears much of the burden of caring for his sick wife and their unhappy but brilliant daughter.

John Yankanich deftly executes the role of the couple’s son, whose circumstances account for much of Diana’s pain. His charming voice easily handles the character’s many songs and his athleticism is evident as he leaps about the stage.

Sean Matthew O’Neill impressively shows off his rock star singing and acting skills in the role of Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden, while Adam Zucal is a good vocal and acting match for Tedesco in his role as her boyfriend Henry.

Having the cast sing their way through much of the play somehow helps to alleviate the heavy subject matter, and many of the tunes are catchy, even though they aren’t necessarily familiar.

A show with as much tragedy as this one is unlikely to have a happy ending, but “Next to Normal” does end with hope, which shines through in the final song, “Light.”

Ridgeway and Town and Country should be commended for accepting a show as challenging as this one, which acts as a reminder for us all that sometimes the best we can strive for is to be “next to normal.”

This show is not recommended for children under age 13 as it contains a large amount of profanity. It also comes with a warning that strobe-type lights are used during the production.

“Next to Normal” continues for the next two weekends at the Town and Country Theater in Buckingham. Visit townandcountryplayers.org.

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