Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Next to Normal

Last evening I had the privilege of seeing the play Next to Normal, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three 2009 Tony Awards, at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. This gripping, heart wrenching musical had me from the first strains of the music to well after the final bows.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from this play, as its outside the general realm of shows I see. A bit of research gave me the general understanding that the play centered around the mother's battle with depression and bi-polar disorder. I had no idea how that central storyline would evolve into a powerhouse play, but went in with an open mind.I was emotionally blown away by the end result and this show is definitely one of the most  moving stories I've seen performed.

 The National Tour Company of Next to Normal. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Next to Normal is a a contemporary musical about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other. The mother (portrayed by Tony Award winning actress, Alice Ripley) is a bi-polar, depressed figure who barely survives her days with the aid of a large cocktail of various anti-depression/anxiety meds and undergoes various psychological procedures. Ripley captured the very soul and essence of her character and gave a tear-inducing, gut-wrenching performance that is sure to stay with theater goers long after they've left the venue. The father is a man desperately trying to hold the family together (and barely succeeding) while attempting to restore his marriage to what it once was in happier times. The family is rounded out by a seemingly perfect nearly eighteen year old son who has an intense hold on his mother and a sixteen year old daughter who tries to live up to up to expectations only to steal her mother's drugs to dull the pain of her family dynamics. Each of the actors was so emotionally invested into their respective characters, I have a hard time imagining how emotional it must be to play such characters night after night.

The musical score was phenomenal. Its an incredibly emotional play so be sure to bring along the tissues. Next to Normal runs through April 10th at Pittsburgh's Benedum Center or visit the Next to Normal national tour site to see if its running in a city near you. You won't be disappointed.

Disclaimer: I was provided tickets to see the play by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, I was not required to write a review. All opinions expressed here are my own.