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‘Normal’ hits home

“Next to Normal” presented by Hawaii Children’s Theater After Dark isn’t normal, at all.

It’s outstanding as it moves swiftly from one scene to the next.

The musical directed by Chris Alderete delivers a real message about mental illness and the toll it takes not just on the lives of those suffering from it, but their family and friends. It’s not a play full of light and laughter that will leave you feeling upbeat. But there is love.

Without giving away a surprising turn in the play, Next to Normal follows a woman, Diana, played by Cathy Miner, who has a past event that haunts and affects her life, and her grip on reality, even years later. Her husband, Dan, is played by Tom Newman; daughter Natalie is played by Brittany Cerra; son Gabe is played by Nick Bushkar; Henry, Natalie’s boyfriend, is played by Kameron Fort; and Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden is played by Steve Whitney.

The vocals are outstanding. Each of the cast has a wonderful voice and rises to the occasion whether singing solo, duet or in harmony when all are together on stage. They display fine range. It’s a bit amazing to find such talent assembled for a relatively small production.

And each carries their character well. You feel Natalie’s hurt and Dan’s pain. You sense Henry’s anguish and frustration. Gabe is the one character difficult to read and there’s a reason for that, as the audience learns.

Miner, with the key role of Diana, delivers an amazing performance. The show revolves around her. She faces the challenge of presenting someone caught in two worlds and she does so without faltering. There is the real world, and the one that lives in her mind and which she can’t escape. She is convincing, whether it’s conversing with her son coming home late, mingling with her husband or arguing with her daughter or questioning her doctor. One moment, she seems fine. The next, lost, a puzzled look takes her face and she truly doesn’t understand what’s happening around her — or why.

Cerra, as the troubled daughter, is outstanding as well and when she’s in the spotlight, which is often in Next to Normal, she shines.

Mental illness is a difficult subject to approach. It affects many people — more than we likely realize. To deal with it hurts.

Next to Normal makes it clear there are no easy answers. Mental illness is messy and can’t be brushed under the rug and hidden away. Someone suffering from mental illness may not know it and may never know it. Perhaps the best a family can do is provide love, patience and understanding — and hope that things will get better, that there is light at the end of that dark tunnel.

And hopefully, it will open eyes to the damaged lives left in the wake of mental illness, and open doors to help, as well.

Next to Normal has a running time of about two hours and there is an intermission.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical wraps up its run at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse with performances at 7 tonight, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $25 at the door or check hawaiichildrenstheatre.org to be sure tickets are available.

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