Paramount Theatre Presents NEXT TO NORMAL Review – Diving Deep Into A Family’s Grief With Powerful Emotions

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After months and months of different therapies, treatments, and hospital visits, it all seems like hope is fading for this family. Diana revisits a memory box. She pulls out a music box and her husband finds her. She’s searching for memories but can’t find any. She begs him to tell her, but it all becomes too much and he snaps. He throws the music box to the floor, shattering it. We go absolutely quiet in the audience, holding our breath. This and many more emotionally charged moments fuel Paramount’s production of Next To Normal.  

Paramount Theatre Digs Deep Into Family Dynamics

Diana played by Donna Louden wakes up feeling amazing. She and her husband are connecting again. Her children are safe and sound. She prepares sandwiches for the day. It seems like this is a picture perfect family. That is, until suddenly Diana keeps pulling out slice after slice of bread, more and more deli meat and lettuce all pile up in a frenzy. In a mere matter of minutes she's surrounded herself with dozens of sandwiches and we realize, something's not quite right.

We dive deeper into their everyday lives. Louden’s face twitches as she struggles to maintain her composure and feel normal. Barry DeBois as her husband Dan tries to remain positive singing “It’s Going To Be God” and keeps the family moving in a semblance of normalcy. Angel Alzeidan as Natalie drinks Red Bulls with a frantic energy trying to cram another hour of studying in, hoping that classwork and extracurriculars will carry her away to college. The family seems to be barely holding it together and we can’t help but wonder what is lurking beneath the surface. 

Paramount Theatre Stagecraft Helps Create the Family Home

We view a simple set of a raised platform and stairs that create everything from the family’s house to various doctors’ offices. They roll tables and chairs in and out when they need to sit down for a family dinner or when they’re in a therapy session. A small door opens on a pillar against the back wall and becomes a medicine cabinet we hadn’t seen before. 

Tall lighting rigs also stand on either end of the stage and bathe it in cool colors. It feels like we’re deep within unending ocean waves. When there’s moments of hope and happiness, the stage brightens with yellows and golds and it feels like we’re cast out of the darkness. 

Emotions Come Alive Through Songs

Our actors dive into this mostly sung-through musical with gusto, in this writer’s view, and it feels like they connect deeply with the words they sing to bring these characters’ emotions to life. Devin DeSantis as various doctors gives us a rock and roll belt as Diana comes to see him for appointments. Jake Ziman as Gabe saunters in and out showing how his presence affects everyone around him when he sings I’m Alive.

Louden paints a picture of a mother wrecked with grief and struggling to find a way to live with it and her mental illness. As her medications make her feel numb, we understand her desire to throw them all away as she wistfully sings I Miss The Mountains and her wanting to feel all of the ups and downs of life again. We feel her frustration as she sings You Don’t Know as nobody seems to understand her pain and draws us into understanding these feelings of helplessness and hurt.

Though Next To Normal might not be for those who want a lighter subject matter, if you’re a fan of modern musicals diving into the twists and turns of a family delivered through top notch singing (in this writer’s opinion), this would be a good fit for you. 


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Donna Louden as Diana, Barry DeBois as Dan, Angel Alzeidan as Natalie, Devin DeSantis as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine, Jake Ziman as Gabe and (bottom) Jake DiMaggio Lopez as Henry. Understudies are Michelle Tibble, Simon Keiser, Emily Ling Mei and Andrew Sickel


Lexie Bailey, choreographer; Kory Danielson, music director and supervisor; Celia Villacres, conductor; Michelle Lilly, scenic designer; Yvonne Miranda, costume designer; Cat Wilson, lighting designer; Eric Backus, sound designer; Aimee Plant, properties designer; and Ethan Deppe, electronic music designer; Creg Sclavi, associate director; Cameron Tragesser, associate conductor; Madeline M. Scott, stage manager; and Rebecca J. Lister, assistant stage manager.


through September 3, 2023

Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m


8 East Galena Boulevard Aurora
IL 60506



For more information and tickets visit the Paramount Theatre website.

Photos: Liz Lauren


Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.

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Alexis Bugajski

About the Author: Alexis Bugajski

Alexis is a theater reviewer, travel bug, media specialist, and burger & beer enthusiast. During the day she works in the advertising business as a senior communications designer. When night falls, or when she can escape to New York, she’s hitting the theaters to see as many shows as she can. And whenever she’s not at her desk or in the audience, she’s out seeking the best burger and beer offerings in Chicago.

Editor's Note:  Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Alexis Bugajski

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