In this review of Next To Normal, Marc Savitt of Broadway World describes the wonder that is a local theater that he’s been to.
“Tucked away in the town of Chatham, NY, The Mac-Haydn Theatre has been producing regional productions of Broadway Musicals for over 50 years. The theatre was founded in part to preserve musical theatre as the one individually American theatre form…
“Mac-Haydn truly is a ‘hidden-gem’ that presents a series of 8-10 productions each summer. Strolling between the wooden buildings on the campus, I have often thought of it as a sort of hybrid that would occur if you combined summer camp with summer-stock. They do great work, and the program attracts seasoned professionals, and up-and-coming performers, along with newbies often young and from the local area. Readers may be slightly aware of one such youngster named Joe then. He is now better known as Nathan Lane.”
My family has been attending shows there for over a dozen years, though not during the worst of COVID. This summer, we saw four shows, A Chorus Line in June, Urinetown in July (mentioned here), Next To Normal, and The Full Monty in August.
What IS normal, anyway?
I knew next to nothing about Next To Normal, which was likely true of the theater-going public in the area where this was the regional premiere. The audience was about 40% smaller than most shows I have seen there.
I had heard about Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s work because I tend to watch the Tonys. “It is considered a ‘rock musical’ the likes of Superstar or RENT.” Per Wikipedia, “The musical addresses grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life.”
The cast of six includes Beth Kirkpatrick is Diana, the “mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her family.” Eric Van Tielen is her husband, Dan, trying to be supportive. They’ve both appeared on Broadway and are making their M-H debuts. They are excellent.
So is the rest of the cast, who are returning performers. Amber Mawande-Spytek as daughter Natalie, Kylan Ross as son Gabe, Andrew Burton Kelley as Natalie’s friend Henry, and Gabe Belyeu as Dr. Madden; he’s been at M-H off and on for at least a decade.
Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The reviewer noted: “Prepare yourself to be overwhelmed by the raw and exhilarating reality of what it means to care for yourself and one another.”
Unemployed in Buffalo
I saw the 1997 movie The Full Monty in a movie theater. “The film is set in Sheffield, England, during the 1990s and tells the story of six unemployed men, four of them former steel workers, who decide to form a male striptease act (à la the Chippendale dancers) to make some money.” The Rotten Tomatoes consensus reads, “Cheeky and infectiously good-natured, The Full Monty bares its big beating heart with a sly dose of ribald comedy.”
The 2000 musical Full Monty is a musical with the book by Terrence McNally and score by David Yazbek. “In this Americanized musical stage version…six unemployed Buffalo steelworkers” are in similar straits and decide on the same solution.
Jerry, who initiates the plan, is played by Xander James, who was back at M-H last year after a decade hiatus. Gabe Belyeu (Harold, the former factory foreman), Kylan Ross (Malcolm), and Andrew Burton Kelley (Ethan) also appear here. Tezz Yancey (Noah “Horse” Simmons) and Dean Marino (Jerry’s best friend Dave) are making their M-H debuts.
Holly Lauren Dayton (Pam, Jerry’s ex), Julia Hajjar (Georgie, Dave’s wife), and Erin Spears Ledford (Vicki, Harold’s wife) are strong, as are many of the other women.
Back in the spotlight
But the highlight is Monica Wemitt, who returns to the Mac-Haydn stage for the first time in three years, though working there behind the scenes as COVID compliance officer. Her Jeanette is “a perhaps second-rate, over-the-hill pianist who happens into the rehearsals and accompanies the gentlemen on their journey to show time. Jeanette is a no holds barred, tell ‘em what you think out loud, funny, self-deprecating bleach blonde with hair that is too big, even for the times, character.”
Despite being a ribald comedy, The Full Monty “also touches on serious subjects such as unemployment, fathers’ rights, depression, impotence, homosexuality, body image, working-class culture, and suicide.”
The Full Monty runs through September 4.