Production shot of Next to Normal in London, with Caissie Levy and Jamie Parker

Caissie Levy and Jamie Parker on bringing 'Next to Normal' to the West End

Levy and Parker play a couple trying to hold their family — and themselves — together in Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning musical.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

London audiences had to wait a long time for Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s 2008 Tony and Pulitzer-winning musical Next to Normal to cross the pond, but it was absolutely worth it. The UK premiere run at the Donmar Warehouse in 2023 was extraordinary, and now Michael Longhurst’s production is heading to the Wyndham’s Theatre.

The show centres on Diana Goodman, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We follow her struggles, as well as those of husband Dan and daughter Natalie. It’s an intimate, deeply moving piece, but also darkly funny and sharply contemporary.

Reprising their lead roles of Diana and Dan for this West End run are, respectively, American actress Caissie Levy (the original Molly in Ghost: The Musical, and Elsa in Frozen) and British actor Jamie Parker (Olivier Award winner for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

Were you aware of the show beforehand?
Caissie Levy: I knew it pretty well. Some of my close friends were in the Broadway company. At the time, I was closer [in age] to playing Natalie. It wasn’t until I got the call to do this that I went back and looked back at Diana’s stuff, and instantly felt like it was a very exciting role.

Jamie Parker: I didn’t expect to get the job, to be honest! It was such a departure for me musically. But I thought it was interesting and new, so I went along and gave it everything that I had. They were very patient and welcomed me into this world. I’m so glad they did because it’s very rewarding to play.

What should we know about your characters?
Levy: We meet Diana at a moment when she’s feeling like her medication might be dulling the excitement of her life. She is living with bipolar disorder and of course it affects her marriage, her family – every single character is going on a journey of their own. We kick off with Diana trying to find her place in the world, and feel alive while still feeling in control.

Parker: The great universality of the piece is that everyone can recognise elements of it: the juggling act you have in your own life. Obviously living with bipolar disorder is at the extreme end of that. Dan is a nice guy trying his best, and when it doesn’t work he doubles down and keeps on trying.

Levy: It’s interesting exploring the relationship between Diana and Dan, because Jamie and I have both been married for a long time, and I think a lot of couples can see the ebb and flow of their own relationship represented on stage. There are places where we help or hurt each other, where we make bad choices, or we show deep love for one another.

How does the physical work fuel the show?
Levy: [Movement director] Ann Yee is so gifted at helping actors through what can feel icky or vulnerable in the rehearsal room. She created a system where we could let our guards down and be weird and brave. Because of Ann and [director Michael Longhurst]’s willingness to take the time to build that, a lot of the actual staging happened organically because we were already so clued into one another.

Parker: There are patches in the script where characters disappear, but the way it’s staged here they often don’t leave the stage – so they remain present. There’s always somebody watching what you’re doing, and these silent exchanges have become part of the musicianship of the piece.

How did you approach the mental health representation?
Levy: Mike and Ann brought in different experts, like doctors, psychologists, and therapists, to help us navigate this in the most truthful, authentic way.

Parker: We’re all entangled in this predicament of being alive and trying to figure it out as we go along. I don’t think you have to be living with extreme forms of neurodivergence or dysfunction to recognise the struggles.

Does it feel particularly groundbreaking for a musical?
Levy: People have a misconception about musicals that they’re all glitz and glam and tap-dancing – and some are. But this show, even though it’s almost entirely sung-through, it’s like a play with music. It’s so true to life: the teenagers sound like real teenagers. It feels completely relevant for today.

Parker: It’s full of empathy. Musicals can tackle serious things in an extremely entertaining way – whether it’s Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, or Cabaret. Next to Normal can hold its head high as part of that tradition.

Do you have a favourite song?
Levy: I love “Superboy and the Invisible Girl”, because [Eleanor Worthington-Cox] smashes it, and I love “I’m Alive” because Jack [Wolfe] smashes it. With Diana, I get to do a bit of everything: big, angsty numbers and soft, folky, prettier stuff. Tom Kitt’s music is made to be sung the hell out of.

Parker: Each song is its own little movie. We’re very lucky that we’ve got this half-dozen company of actors and we trust each other to continue to play, so it changes from night to night.

Will you need to scale up much for this new venue?
Levy: I think it will only require a tiny bit of scaling up. People will still feel they’re in our kitchen with us – but with a bigger space for these big feelings.

Parker: The Wyndham’s feels like the right place for it. We won’t have to play to all sides like in the Donmar, so the kitchen island will be less of an obstacle to negotiate!

Levy: The way that people are talking about mental health, how much more open we are post-Covid, it’s such an opportunity to do this musical now. I feel wildly lucky that the UK theatre community has welcomed me in, and I’m so excited to be back in the West End with this show. It’s a total privilege.

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Photo credit: Jamie Parker and Caissie Levy in Next to Normal. (Photo courtesy of production)

Originally published on

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