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Going crazy for 'Next to Normal'

"Next to Normal" is anything but.

"Next to Normal" is anything but. It's a musical about the devastating effects of mental illness on a seemingly idyllic suburban family. Just getting to the not-so-happily-ever-after ending requires a ride on an emotional roller coaster that might leave you begging for some of the medication they're singing about.

But it's brilliant. And the SpeakEasy Stage Company's stellar production is one of its finest works to date.

The rock opera boasts an amazing score that perfectly captures the highs and lows of navigating your way through the mental health system. Its blisteringly accurate commentary on our culture's desire to feel numb is at its best when Diana (Kerry Dowling) sings that her psychopharmacologist "knows my deepest secrets and I know his name."

Dowling delivers a stellar turn as the woman battling bi-polar disorder. Her vocals are spot-on and the subtleties of her performance vacillate perfectly between heartbreaking and infuriating. This SpeakEasy mainstay -- with a long, impressive career -- has never been better.

Sarah Drake also shines as Diana's overachieving daughter, Natalie. The Boston Conservatory senior nicely keeps you wondering whether Natalie is in the early stages of her own battle with mental illness or simply coping with a life that is certainly not normal.

Initially, Michael Tacconi charms the socks off the audience with his delightful turn as Diana's teenage son Gabe. But it's his later transformation and impressive vocal chops that'll impact you the most.

Christopher Chew is perfectly weary and worn out as Diana's "boring" husband Dan. But he, too, undergoes a chilling transformation that changes everything.

Eric Levenson's minimalist set and Jeff Adelberg's impeccably executed lighting design set the perfect scene in this flawless production.

Plot points




When an arsenal of psychopharmaceuticals and never-ending trips to the therapist fail to keep suburban mom Diana's mental illness in check, her family is forced to look elsewhere for help and ultimately come face to face with their own demons.

If you go




'Next to Normal'

Through April 22

BCA Calderwood Pavilion

527 Tremont St., Boston

$25-$55, 617-933-8600

www.speakeasystage.com