'Next to Normal' review — Caissie Levy shines in this powerful rock musical about mental health

Read our review of Next to Normal, starring Caissie Levy and Jack Wolfe, now in performances at Wyndham's Theatre until 21 September.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

It has taken 15 years for Next to Normal to transfer from Broadway to the West End, yet none of the musical’s frank insights into mental health and its treatment feel remotely dated.

Written by Tom Kitt (music) and Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics), Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three Tony Awards — and earned four Olivier nominations this year — for its heart-wrenching story about a suburban mother (Diana Goodman, played by the superb Caissie Levy) in the throes of a mental health crisis.

Levy is supported by a fantastic ensemble cast as her enduring but emotionally spent family: Jamie Parker plays sturdy husband Dan, desperate to find a fix for his wife’s bipolar disorder; Eleanor Worthington-Cox is her highly strung, resentful daughter Natalie; and Jack Wolfe plays much-loved son Gabe.

1200 LT Next To Normal Jack Wolfe

They are the same cast that premiered the musical at the Donmar Warehouse in 2023, in a production by director Michael Longhurst, and it is clear that their bond has only strengthened since then, which is crucial for a show that interrogates such heavy themes. Indeed, from the opening number, there are already signs of Diana’s mania, and by the second, she is assembling stacks of sandwiches across the stage floor at breakneck speed, throwing around slices of cheese and ham.

Musicals are often dismissed as glitzy spectacles, but they provide fertile ground for discussing hard-hitting subjects — just look at Rent, which is set at the height of the AIDS epidemic, or Dear Evan Hansen, which explores the impact of suicide. Here, Kitt and Yorkey look at bipolar disorder in a nuanced and thoughtful way, without falling into the trap of finding easy solutions to the characters’ problems.

The musical is also lightened by funny moments, whether that be Diana’s pill boxes shaken like maracas by her family and doctor, all dressed in white medical coats, or insights into her mind when she imagines Dr Madden (played by Trevor Dion Nicholas) as a rock star, with Nicholas breaking into air guitar and making a rock hand sign.

1200 LT Next To Normal Jamie Parker, Jack Wolfe, Eleanor Worthington-Cox and Caissie Levy

What really makes this show sing, however, is its score. The musical is largely sung-through, which means there are countless opportunities for the cast to show off their vocals. Broadway star Levy (whose credits include Elphaba in Wicked, Fantine in Les Misérables, and Elsa in Frozen) impresses in “I Miss the Mountains,” as she describes her desire to feel something, instead of being numbed by medicine, while Wolfe is hypnotic in rock ballad “I’m Alive.”

The connection between Diana and Gabe is the most engaging, but there are plenty of opportunities for other relationships to shine, particularly between Natalie and her boyfriend Henry (Jack Ofrecio), whose tentative, blossoming relationship is reminiscent of a young Diana and Dan. Parker and Wolfe also deliver a huge emotional gut punch during their reprise of “I Am the One,” when Dan finally gives in to his pain.

The focus on Diana’s journey does mean that some of the sub-plots suffer, for example, Natalie’s downward spiral doesn’t get enough attention when she begins using her mother’s prescription pills and she breaks down during a piano recital. Arguably some intimacy is also lost in scaling up from the Donmar’s thrust stage, although Wyndham’s Theatre is one of the more intimate West End venues.

What remains clear, however, is that Kitt and Yorkey’s musical soars in the hands of such an accomplished and connected cast.

Book Next to Normal tickets on London Theatre.

Photo credit: the cast of Next to Normal. (Photos by Marc Brenner)

Originally published on

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