Broadway Features and Reviews
Next To Normal: Breaking Down Barriers
By Leora Kanner, Broadway Magazine
"Next to Normal" is another show in the tradition of Broadway rock musicals that break the mold. It definitely breaches a topic few, if any, musicals have gone before: severe mental illness. However, perhaps the most touching aspect of the show is how 'normal' it really is. At the end of the day it is a musical about family, relationships, and coping with life, topics that are touched on but many previous Broadway shows.
Whether "Next to Normal" advocates or criticizes modern treatment for mental illness is not always clear. Much of the show satirizes the plethora of medication given to patients and the inability of this medication to do anything but eliminate feeling. The show shrink is partly crazy but at times exhibits insight as well, making his exact purpose slightly unclear. It seems that "Next to Normal" does its best job showing just how complicated dealing with mental illness and depression can be. Amidst the satire and criticism the show definitely argues that psychiatric treatment is "not an exact science" and has severe flaws. But when dealing with a situation that is not rectifiable, perhaps all one can do is attempt to deal with it as best as we can.
"Next to Normal" is brought to life by a talented cast who strive to show the many ways that a family and a life can be affected by tragedy. It is heart wrenching to watch as the family crumbles apart in its attempt to rebuild a life that is somewhat "normal" after a shocking twist revealed early in the plot. Their ups and downs, successes and failures, are played out as the audience cringes and commiserates simultaneously.
The comedic edge of the production allows the members of the audience to both enjoy the experience and simultaneously take the message to heart. One is heavily affected by the complex questions the show raises and may leave "next to normal" with a clear sense that there is no true right or wrong; one can only do the best one can.
Despite the unique situation that the family deals with, it is apparent throughout the musical that many families experience similar dysfunction, whether or not they deal with severe mental illness. The scary thing is that too many people in our world have dealt somewhat with medication, therapy, and the like, causing the show to hit even closer to home than one would think. And, even someone with the most banal and 'normal' life can identify with the relationships and difficult family dynamic aspect of the musical. It is this fact that is where the show succeeds the most: "Next to Normal" vividly depicts and picks apart family that is not so far from "normal" after all.
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