Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Next To Normal"

Diana's head must look like what my apartment kitchen looks like right now. Piles of dishes, a mess of a refrigerator, and sticky floors - all of which are not her fault. And not my fault either.

"Next To Normal" centers around a suburban family with issues. Not "August" issues but interesting ones none the less. The character Diana, the incendiary Alice Ripley, has mental problems. Her husband, Henry, played by J. Robert Spencer, tries to help his wife get the best medical attention (and pills) she needs. Their children are Natalie (Spring Awakening alum Jennifer Damiano) and Aaron Tveit, plays Gabe. Everything that goes on in Diana's head effects everyone around.

The show starts with a great song "Just Another Day" which shows the audience just how typical of an American family they are...until Diana starts to place bread slices on the floor, one after the other and tries to explain that she's just making sandwiches but in reality, her mental illness is shown to the audience.

She sees Dr. Madden, who prescribes her more than several pills that should help her but Diana decides in the song "I Miss the Mountains" that she wants to try living life without the medicine.

Her daughter Natalie starts seeing, Henry, a pot smoker who suddenly becomes the good influence on her, when she starts to abuse her mothers pills.

Gabe, is Diana's 17 year old son, who died when he was a baby. Yes, in her mind, she sees her song, who is not really there. In the first song, it seems like he's actually there but later in the first act, it's realized that he is just a figment of her illness. He has a great song, "I'm Alive", where he protests that he will not leave his mother's side. It's a bizarre relationship but it's the core reason why Diana acts like she does. In a chilling moment she said that when her son died, the doctor said she would be fine after 4 months but really, only 4 months is normal to get over the death of a child? And if the patient isn't fine, then pills are the next step? What kind of "guidelines" are these?

The show is not a fluffy musical being paraded by Disney. With music by Tom Kitt (High Fidelity) and lyrics and book by Brian Yorkey, this is definitely a show you do not want to miss. It's moving, thrilling, and makes you think. Go run to the Booth Theatre, Alice Ripley (your Tony nom is in the bag), will have you standing on your feet at the end.

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