Rock musical “Next to Normal” confronts bipolar disorder
"I have said these words before.”
As a mother sings a rock anthem of a hauntingly real battle in her mind, audience members hear an echo of conversations they’ve held. As she deals with demons that refuse to leave her, and struggles with the effect of those demons on both herself and her family, they experience an empathy rich and complex.
They’re not here for sunshine and rainbows. They’re here for honesty and connection. They’re here because they see themselves, their loved ones, their neighbors onstage. They’re here to understand.
An estimated one in five American adults suffers from some diagnosable mental condition in any given year. Yet, for the astounding majority of people, there seems to be no shared experience, no common voice that tells their story; that sings their song.
Mental illness continues to be stigmatized in a way that leaves sufferers and their loved ones feeling alone and separate and often without hope.
In Closed Door Entertainment Inc.’s upcoming production “Next to Normal,” a rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, the audience is given a look inside the mind of a woman battling intensifying bipolar disorder and how it not only affects her, but her family and the very foundation on which they build their lives.
The show opened on Broadway in April 2009 and was nominated for 11 2009 Tony Awards, winning three. It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the eighth musical in history to receive the honor.
“It’s adult. It’s hard-hitting, it’s a drama,” says JC Smith, Closed Door’s executive director.“It’s a powerful, powerful show and people need to be prepared for that. If they’re coming in expecting Mary Poppins, they’re going to be sorely mistaken.”
The show, however, is not all grim reality and devastation; there are threads of humor, love and, ultimately, hope. “It is a drama,” Smith reiterates, “but there are comedic moments. There are beautiful moments. There are powerful moments, and there is not a rehearsal that goes by where one of our cast members doesn’t sit and sob in the corner for a few minutes.”
In other words, it’s a show about real life and all that comes with it.
The hope is that all audience members will recognize the issues being dealt with and perhaps even find healing in the shared experience. “For people who do suffer, there’s such unity in hearing these lines… to realize that you’re not alone, that other people feel the same way, other people fight the same demons every single day,” Smith says. “It’s emboldening to know that you’re not alone anymore.”
Closed Door Entertainment, in association with the Chattanooga AIM Center, which provides consumer-driven psychiatric rehabilitation services, wants this show to start a conversation about and bring greater awareness to mental illness.
“I think that when we bring about awareness we are all better off,” he explains, “and I think one way to do that is in a fantastically powerful rock musical.”
“Next to Normal”
7:30 p.m. July 31 & Aug. 1
2 p.m. Aug 1, 2
Memorial Auditorium’s Robert K. Walker Theatre
399 McCallie Ave.
For tickets and more info: chattanoogaonstage.com