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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 12, 2011

Next to Normal Review

IF YOUR concept of having a good time in theatre is watching happy lightweight musicals like “Xanadu”, “Legally Blonde” and “The Wedding Singer”, “Next to Normal” is not for you at it’s not your typical feel-good Broadway show. A brave rock musical that dares explore mental illness, it subjects the viewer to a gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster ride as it follows the agonizing struggles of a mother to maintain her sanity. All those who have experienced the pain of having mentally disturbed loved ones will understand the crippling anguish that the family of Diana (Menchu Yulo) go through in the play. Everyone gets damaged in the process.

Sensitively directed by Bobby Garcia, one can’t help but sympathize with Diana as she goes through a harrowing series of treatment by drugs and, later, electro-convulsive or shock therapy in her desire to fight her mental imbalance. We won’t discuss the plot in detail and give away its revelations. Suffice it to say that there’s a plot twist in one of the characters who turns out to be like Paul Bettany in “A Beautiful Mind”, a film also about lunacy. The play is superbly acted by Felix Rivera as the son, Bea Garcia as the daughter, and Markki Stroem in his first professional stage appearance as Bea’s devoted boyfriend. Markki has a lesser role and has only one memorable song, “Perfect for You”, but he has very likable stage presence that would be perfect for lead romantic roles like the Prince in “Little Mermaid” or Simba in “Lion King”.

The most astounding performances are rendered by Menchu as the central character and Jett Pangan as her ever loyal husband who sticks with her through thick and thin. Menchu is perfectly cast and never hits a false note in her brilliant interpretation of her role. We enjoyed her rendition of “I Miss the Mountains”, “Didn’t I See this Movie Before” and “How Could I Forget”. Jett is so compelling in “Who’s Crazy”, “He’s Not Here”, “I’ve Been”, “A Light in the Dark” and we believe he’d be great in doing characters like Jean Valjean in “Les Miz”, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Engineer in “Miss Saigon”. “Next to Normal” is showing at the Carlos Romulo Theater in RCBC Plaza until March 27.