On Sunday, I made a rare, but much enjoyed trip to Knight Theatre. A play I had not heard of before the previous Wednesday was in town. The play was Next to Normal. It had won a Pulitzer (which I was not aware that plays could do) and the leading actress, Alice Ripley, from its Broadway run was touring with the play as well. So I took my student ID and bought tickets to see a show that, save for the title and the credentials, I knew nothing about. I am resisting the urge to explain every detail and element of the show and will try to stick to what I like about the play.
The fist word that came to mind after Next to Normal was “wow.” I was originally upset because Ripley was replaced by Pearl Sun for the matinee performance, but the casting director clearly put serious thought into choosing roles. The cast was seamless. They interacted well, connected with their roles, and were a pleasure to watch.
My favorite thing about Next to Normal is the arrangement. The set, the music, the screenplay. It may not have been the most unique, but it definitely was not run of the mill either. And, I personally always get in an argument with my friend Twan (who is a movie critic if there ever was one) that everyone doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be brilliant. You play on the old themes and improve the formula. That is what the show did well: take creative elements and blend them together uniquely.
The set was set up in twelve blocks (four sets across, three levels high). The cast interacted between eight of them. The orchestra played in the remaining four. The simplistic design allowed for me to tap into my own creativity between the lines and picture details for the different scenes.
I had been spending quite a bit of time reading about and following the Spiderman Broadway fiasco, and one of the things mentioned was that the songs were not memorable even though lyrics were written by Bono from U2. Next to Normal did not have this problem. Most scenes were composed of three piece medleys sung by one actor after another. Not only were the songs in Next to Normal memorable, they flawlessly flowed together.
I loved the plot of the play, too. Without giving away too much, the show is about a family whose mother battles mental illness. It seems simple, but the delivery and story was wonderful. If Next to Normal comes into your city, you much see it.
Side note: If you are still a college student, your ID is good for so much more than movie discounts. Get some culture.