Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Next to Normal by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (2010)

Summary:  A middle-class suburban family deals with the challenges presented by living with a matriarch (Diana) who is a diagnosed manic depressive.  In addition to the "mountains and valleys" of the disease, Diana literally sees her dead son Gabe as an eighteen-year-old (though he died as an infant) and is treated with electroshock therapy before finally deciding that she needs to leave her husband and daughter in the hope that they will all have a more peaceful normal existence.

Thoughts:  New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley's quip, "It is something much more than a feel-good musical:  it is a feel-everything musical" appeared on promotional material across New York and is now the first blurb on the back of the printed edition of the play.  True, this is a far cry from other huge-grossing Broadway musicals, but not just because of it's subject matter.  When the play came out, comparisons to Rent were immediately drawn due to the pop-like musical score.  However, unlike Rent, Next to Normal is not a musical of memorable songs that will be used in advertising and hummed on the way out of the theatre.  I saw this musical in New York three months ago.  While reading the text of the songs in the recently published Pulitzer edition of the play, I was only faintly reminded of the tune of these songs (highly unusual for me).

Next to Normal is unquestionably a different kind of musical.  Much of the play is very dark, and even the moments of sung tenderness are underscored with the feeling that this is a family that can never be truly happy.  When I saw this play, I liked it.  I was moved.  I did not love it and I was not overwhelmed like countless people told me that I would be.  Having read two of the other three 2010 nominees (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and In the Next Room), I wonder if Next to Normal won the Pulitzer because it is, in fact, a "different kind of musical."

Personal Photo:
Next to Normal set, Broadway:  August 2010.  
Strange, great lottery seats obtained by Jessica Watkins.

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