The Nearly Perfect Next To Normal

28 03 2011

Watching Next To Normal last Saturday has left me thunderstruck. And it makes me wonder: how do they do it? How in the world could they act with such depth, sing with much passion, move with graceful precision, and still deliver their lines with such clarity, all at the same time? Because if I were in their shoes, I’d be physically and emotionally spent and pretty much useless on stage. But Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (Diana Goodman), Jett Pangan (Dan Goodman), Bea Garcia (Natalie Goodman), Felix Rivera (Gabe Goodman), and Jake Macapagal (Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden) were just unbelievably riveting and fantastic. Even neophyte Markki Stroem (Henry) delivered a decent performance. It just doesn’t make sense, and it’s just not fair. I am seething with envy. There were a few glitches with their lapel mics here and there but in totality, it was a moving and memorable theatrical experience.

Next To Normal is a Tony Award- and Pultizer Prize-winning Broadway musical about a mother who suffers from bipolar disorder and manic depression and how her struggling family deals with her condition. It delves into the subjects of loss, desperation, and hope. Its book and lyrics were written by Brian Yorkey and the music was composed by Tom Kitt. Admittedly, I didn’t think Filipinos would relate very well with the story of Next To Normal because unlike Americans, we’re not really that into the general idea of psychological therapies/treatments. But judging from the people’s reaction when I saw it, the theme of this drama is so truthful and encompassing, it struck a chord and made an impression. It definitely hit the nerves of many audience members as sobs could be heard everywhere as the cast did the final song.

A compelling story + evocative music + dynamic production + intense performances = one helluva show that is next to perfection! I swear, should there be a re-run, I will watch again.

Personal favorites and highlights:

– Dan: “They say love is blind. But believe me, love is insane.”

You Don’t Know/I Am The One prod. This introduced me to Next To Normal a couple of years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Just sheer genius and power. And Lauchengco-Yulo, Pangan, and Rivera’s version was undoubtedly gripping. They didn’t disappoint.

– Natalie: “Take a look at the invisible girl. Here she is, clear as the day. Please look closely and find her before she fades away.”

– Dr. Madden and Diana’s exchanges/interactions. They were the comic relief and they had smart-ass banters.
Dr. Madden: “There’s a difference between being happy and just thinking you’re happy.”
Diana: “Most people who think they’re happy just haven’t thought about it enough. Most people who think they’re happy are actually just stupid.” – Gabe: “‘Cause if you won’t grieve me, you can’t leave me behind.”

– The set and the play of lights were such a delight to the eyes. They were especially effective during the hospital scenes.

Song Of Forgetting prod. After undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, Dan and Natalie finds out that Diana lost a great deal of her memory. Natalie is once again forgotten.

Maybe (Next to Normal) prod. Diana talks to Dr. Madden and refuses further treatment. Shen then talks to Natalie and opens up to her for the first time.
Diana: “Maybe we can’t be okay. But maybe we’re tough and we’ll try anyway. We’ll live with what’s real. Let go of what’s past. And maybe I’ll see you at last.”
“We tried to give you a normal life. I realize now, I have no clue what that is.”
Natalie: “I don’t need a life that’s normal. That’s way too far away. But something next to normal would be okay. Yeah, something next to normal, that’s the thing I’d like to try. Close enough to normal to get by.”

– Diana: “I’ll take a chance. I’ll take a chance on leaving. It’s that or stay and die.”

I Am the One (Reprise) prod. After Diana decides to face her issues on her own, Dan is left alone in the house. His son appears and talks to him. Dan tries to shut him out at first, but folds and faces him, and mentions his name for the first time: “Gabe. Gabriel.” To which Gabe replies: “Hi, Dad.” WATERWORKS!

– Diana: “And you find some way to survive. And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all to be happy you’re alive.”