Next to Normal is a rock musical that I came across last weekend during my YouTube rounds and decided to settle in and watch what would turn out to be a fantastic musical.
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey music from the beginning of the musical sets the music for what turns out to be a fantastic show full of emotions and themes that identify with our everyday interactions. Boasting of an amazing cast, an awesome score, insightful lyrics and an unlikely but brilliantly engaging story about a family that is struggling with depression and bipolar disorder, the show sets itself apart from the beginning keeping viewers at the edge of their seats.
With its amazing cast of 6 main members, the Musical would have been fit to be an operetta but still, it was captivating enough to win a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama in its illustration of American life. The musical primarily focuses on the pain that paralyses the members of a suburb family with such intensity that it gets the viewer fully involved in the anguish and suffering that shutters the core of the lives of members of this family. In essence, “Next to Normal” is not a feel-good musical that the American theatre lovers might have been accustomed to. The show’s central figure is a manic-depressive mother who loves the people around her and still damages them to an extent that as a viewer, you would consider doing something about it to save the people from the suffering. Through the show, viewers get to not only discover what really hurts most in family relationships but also get to know where it hurts most. Listening to the musical’s theme song, lines such as “I don’t need a life that’s normal, that’s way too far away. But something next to normal, that would be okay” quickly brings the kind of suffering that the Goodman’s family is undergoing in a bid to cope with wife and mother Diana’s mental illness.
In the musical, Diana Goodman is the tenuous mother who struggles to lead an ordinary life for herself, her husband who is called Dan and her daughter called Natalie. Her son’s death 16 years ago caused her a lot of trauma and she always hallucinates about him. Through Diana’s struggle with the bipolar disorder, the audience gets to appreciate the losses that occur when injured people are put under anesthesia. The musical does goes deeper to reveal the different kinds of metaphorical anesthesia that wounded people are subjected to and some they subject to themselves. Diana is provided by pharmaceutical and medical treatments; however, as if that was not enough, she starts using recreational drugs, alcohol and everyone can see she is struggling to put a smile on her face even as she incessantly denies that she is sad and depressed. This clearly reflects the modern-day society that would do anything to hide their vulnerabilities from the public eye.
When Diana visits a physician and she is given a lot of medication that disgusts her, she is encouraged through hallucinations by her dead son to dispose them secretly. When her hallucinations become worse to a point of her trying to commit suicide, she is subjected to Electroconvulsive Therapy treatment to lessen the progression of her mental illness. This treatment renders unable to perform her parental duties as normal as she would love to and takes a toll on her daughter Natalie who resorts to drinking and drugs. According to Natalie, she was invisible to her parents who were concerned so much about the recovery of her mother. She also considered herself mentally ill in a way. This illustrates the kind of effect parental health may have on the growth and development of their children. Families with mental health patients often concentrate so much on the patient that they make the children feel unappreciated. This feeling may drive the children into indulging in activities that are harmful to their health.
Diana’s husband, Dan, seems to be the only sane person in the whole family. Throughout the Musical, he works industriously to remain sane and optimistic in the eyes of his family but he is truly struggling inside. While he shows hope for a better tomorrow, there is no doubt that at times he wonders in his mind whether that tomorrow will really come for his family. Through Dan Goodman’s character, we can appreciate the vital role a man plays as the head of a family – especially one that is on the brink of collapse.
Next to Normal perfectly explores the theme of mental illness and bipolar disorder while paying homage to the various groups of people that are directly linked to the patient. With one of the doctors admitting that he actually had no idea of what Diana was ailing from, the Musical presents a delicate subject on the need for medical practitioners to stay updated with the latest medical practices and the progression of diseases. Rock music that is used in the musical was artistically composed and paid homage to the rock society in America linking the music with a very emotive health issue that is on the rise within the society.
In conclusion, Next to Normal has a lesson for every American family. From the lives of the Goodman’s family, we can all appreciate that there is no real “normal” in life and the moment we start recognizing that fact, we will without a doubt start finding a balancing point and comfort in our occasionally messy lives. The musical also leaves us with an invaluable lesson on the power of pure, selfless love.