Saturday, September 04, 2010

Unflinching and Unforgettable

Two weeks ago, I saw 'Next To Normal,' an intense, unflinching look at a bi-polar Mom's tortured world and collateral damage, boldly rendered 70% in song, which in the cast's capable hands enhances rather than diminishes the play's many values..

I'll avoid spoilers and cut to the chase: this really works well, making something compelling and universal out of a difficult subject (bipolar disorder). Hey, plays win Pulitzer prizes and Tonys (best score) for reasons. It packs an emotional wallop, and a killer narrative twist. Insightfully written, brilliantly sung and acted, this play really gets under your skin. It made me feel - and understand - the difficult emotional reality of this woman tripped up by a toxic cocktail of faulty internal wiring, genuine tragedy, and mid-life ennui.

The magnificent cast blew me away, and have won wide acclaim, even though they are not the original cast. It's led by Marin Mazzie as the troubled mom; Mazzie brings decades of Broadway and cabaret acumen to the table. She also brings her real-life husband, Jason Danieley, to play her long-suffering but ever loyal and hopeful spouse.
The lyrics are sharp, the music is good and all over the place - from show tunes to rock, soul, and singer/songwriter confessional, it all works, and sounds great, but you're so deep into the play and its characters that you can almost forget they're singing.. The stunning sets render this family's home as a frame of black poles and grids with few boundaries and a luminous blue-purple background. The musicians are built into the dark corners of the house, seen but not seen. I hope I've intrigued you enough to check out the clip below...

Here's a great scene that gives you a flavor of the show's delicate balance of stark realism and occasional sardonic humor..

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