Musical Monday: Next to Normal

215px-Next_to_NormalName: Next to Normal

Credits: Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Music by Tom Kitt.

Summary: A rock musical about a mother, still grieving the loss of her son, who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effects her illness have on her suburban family.

Dates: Opened on Broadway in April, 2009, where it ran until 2011. The first National Tour our launched in 2010, followed by international productions in Europe, Asia, Australia, Israel, and South America.

 Awards: Nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical (it lost to Billy Elliott). Won 3 Tony Awards: Best Original Score, Best Orchestration, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Alice Ripley). Next To Normal also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. Interestingly enough, the last musical to win the Pulitzer was Rent (1996), which had the same director (Michael Greif).

Rating: PG-13/R

Why This Musical: As the summary would suggest, this is a musical that covers some serious topics—suicide, mental illness, drug use, grief, and questionable psychiatric practices. There are songs about medication (“My Psychopharmacologist & I”), electric shock therapy (“Didn’t I See This Movie”), and memory loss (“Better Than Before”). The main character suffers throughout the show, and her family suffers with her. But it’s a powerful story, with brilliant songs that pack an emotional wallop. On stage, it’s a barebones show—the set is a series of interlocking “cubes,” representing different rooms, and the cast is limited to six characters–but this makes the individual performances really stand out. When Next to Normal opened on Broadway, the critical response was favorable, and it made the list for the year’s “10 Best Shows” by the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

My Connection: I had the chance to see a local production of Next to Normal, put on by the marvelous Greendale Community Theatre. This is a tough musical to perform, because it has such a small cast, which means they all have to be excellent. Fortunately, this cast was up to the job. One of the features I liked about the production was that the band (guitarist, bassist, and keyboard player) played right on stage, as an integral part of the show, rather than being hidden in the pit. By the end of the night, my daughter and I were in tears from the musical’s devastating finale.

Where to See It: Next to Normal is often performed by community theatre groups. Otherwise, the Original Broadway Cast Recording is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Favorite Songs:
“I Am the One”
“I’m Alive”
“A Light in the Dark”
“Wish I Were Here”

Final Thoughts: If you want a musical with an emotional heft, Next to Normal fits the bill. The Broadway cast recording is excellent, particularly Alice Ripley as Diana and Aaron Tveit as Gabe.

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