Friday, April 5, 2013

Multi-Media, April 5, 2013

Singing Through the Bleakness
Next to Normal is brilliant on so many levels
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

I have seen it. I have seen and heard about it. It is darkness so enveloping that you realize feeling is too tiring and it may be easier not to and to simply cede to the drug therapies - many, many, one failure after another - that are proposed to you.

I have seen the results on a family. I have seen spouses wondering about the future and children wondering about the past. 

This is bipolar disorder and there are precious few works that get it. But the musical Next to Normal - by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt - gets it. Moreover, a musical may have been the only way to capture the effects on a patient and the patient's entourage. When people tell you they don't get musicals or opera point to this piece. A song/aria is the device used when emotions are too strong to speak - love-madness, hate-madness, madness period - made poetic, musical and beautiful. 

The music and singing in the original cast recording is so achingly lovely I began to blubber far before the ambiguous, haunting end.

Point to Next to Normal again to explain that in a play, the huge emotions and lack of them heard here would simply be unendurable for the time it would take to speak a story - especially this story: a very ill woman, escaping from a tragedy, is not only brutalized by the tragedy in tangible form, but is also trying not to fail her husband, daughter or life. (An impossible task.) The daughter's life becomes a shambles and the husband's life one with only one task: trying to comfort his wife. 

The music and singing in the original cast recording is so achingly lovely I began to blubber far before the ambiguous, haunting end. (And the end is as devastating as it is inevitable.) Where Yorkey and Kitt have especially succeeded is in the modulation of the songs - clearly they understood that this is a world where the interior voice whispers in despair as often as it screams in agony. 

The cast of the original were rightly hailed when the show opened on Broadway in 2009 and ran off with three Tonys and the Pulitzer. Alice Ripley, as the mother, won one of those Tonys and it was not just for showing up. ("So Anyway", her ACT II solo is eviscerating.) Also gorgeous is Jennifer Damiano as the daughter. This is as it should be, as the story's strength rests on this relationship almost as much as on that of the Mother's with her past. 

I have one quibble and it is minuscule: the scoring often tantalizes with a theme that grabs (as in the oddball waltz "My Psychopharmacologist and I) and then lets it go. 

However, what is left - each song - is in and of itself so moving, well-sung and delicately beautiful that you will forgive these lapses immediately.

I want to see and hear this work. It merits more productions than it has had in Canada because it is serious theatre that will howl into the souls of all those who have ever been exposed to bipolar disorder.

That is many, many of us.

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