Next To Normal, music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards in 2009. This rock musical centers on a family struggling with loss and how each member copes with it, especially one pivotal character. Beyond the psych-speak, this play is about inconsolable loss and grief while touching on acceptable treatment for mental illness from electro-convulsive treatments to psychopharmacology. The score is a cut above the usual rock musical. Songs like “Just Another Day” and “I Miss the Mountains” are stand-outs.
Brilliantly directed by Thomas James O’Leary, he finds the beats and comedic balance as the plot unfolds. The ensemble cast is outstanding and their vocal blend perfect. Especially moving is Michelle Lane as the mother, Diana. Kudos to scenic designer Jeff Cason for his versatile set design in a small space. This is powerful theatre with keen insights for coping with loss, and it will particularly resonate with anyone who has dealt with a loved one fighting mental illness. Not to be missed.
Through Sun., Sept. 25. The Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., 310-204-4440. n2nmusicalla.brownpapertickets.com.
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Theatre in the round is the framework for the world premiere Please Don’t Ask About Becket by Wendy Graf, which puts the audience in the center of this memory play. Emily (a powerhouse Rachel Seiferth) is still haunted by her twin brother Becket (Hunter Garner) who disappeared years ago. She compares him to a phantom limb that’s been amputated. She takes us on the journey that led to his leaving.
Mr. Garner is excellent as the excuse-giving, good-looking loser son. Rob Nagle plays the studio executive father with heart-breaking reality. Grace, the mother (a wonderful Deborah Puette), struggles to understand her damaged son and preserve her perfect family. Director Kiff Scholl has staged the play with insight, heart and pace. This is absorbing theatre at its best.
Through Sun., Sept. 18. Sacred Fools Theater, Black Box, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., 323-960-7745, plays411.com/becket.
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They’re remaking “Sunset Boulevard” the movie. Three of the least likely candidates are vying for the role of Norma Desmond. This is the set-up of Drama Queens From Hell by Peter Lefcourt. Brianne McCauley (Chad Borden) is a pre-op transgender woman, Maxine Zabar (Christopher Callen) is an aging TV actress, and Felicia Brown (Dee Freeman) is a former Blaxploitation movie bit player. Trying to contain this three-ring circus is the B-movie director Gerard Manville (Paul Galliano) who starts out the story dead (in morgue sheets with a toe tag), a conceit borrowed from the movie. There are some laughs along the way, the best of them coming as the three actresses lip-sync to several scenes from the movie.
Yee Eun Nam is credited as projection designer. Rick Podell plays the girls’ agent Artie Paramecium. Andrew Diego supplies a lot of the laughs as Raphael, a bitchy gay assistant, and also has a funny turn as a German dress shop clerk. Some of the dialogue is directed to the audience including a couple of swipes at the current Equity-99 seat theatre negotiations.
Through Sun., Sept. 25. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., 323-960-7787. plays411.com/dramaqueens.
By Patricia Foster Rye