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Performing Art
Ashley Picciallo, Leo Daignault, Stacia Fernandez and Mike Backes in "Next to Normal" at Florida Studio Theatre. Photo courtesy of Maria Lyle Photography.
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 10 years ago

Theater Review: 'Next to Normal' performed by Florida Studio Theatre

by: Paula Atwell

A Tony Award-winning rock musical, “Next to Normal,” rocks your heart, your mind and your soul. The music is modern and melodic; the lyrics are clever and thoughtful.

Written with acerbic wit by Brian Yorkey, with music by Tom Kitt, it’s a stunning opener for the Florida Studio Theatre fall season. FST Artistic Director Richard Hopkins has done us all a favor by bringing the winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama to a Sarasota stage. Under Hopkins’ direction, the production is seamless, electrically charged and fraught with meaning.

“Next to Normal” began as a 10-minute sketch about electroconvulsive shock therapy. Over the course of several years, the play grew into its current form, the story of a mother with worsening bipolar disorder and its effect on her and her family. Universal issues, such as contemporary living, drug use, suicide, marital relationships and parenting, are also explored.

The FST cast is led by Stacia Fernandes in the role of the tormented, manic-depressive Diana, who’s “living on a latte and prayer.” Fernandes is a Broadway veteran who’ll be returning to “Mamma Mia” in January. She’s a fabulous actress with a fantastic voice.

Leo Daignault is perfect as long-suffering, still optimistic husband, Dan. Ashley Picciallo, as daughter Natalie, is extraordinarily good at provoking empathy, making the audience understand how it is to be a child forced into playing mother to her mother. Mike Backes, as son Gabe, is a fantastic singer and convincing in a difficult devil/angel role integral to the plot.

Appealing and sincere as the boyfriend, James LaRosa is a past winner of the Payne Award for Outstanding Actor in Music Theatre. Scott Guthrie plays two clearly differentiated doctors and rocks the house in an unexpected manner while doing so.

IF You Go
“Next to Normal” runs through Jan. 1 at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave.
For ticket information, visit or call 366-9000.

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