The Tulsa PAC’s production of “Next to Normal” awed me with its rapid transitions from drama to humor, sense of colloquialism, challenging notions of love and stellar cast.
Following a highly dysfunctional family, “Next to Normal” shows the humorous side of mental disability—only to bring playgoers back to horrifying reality. I laughed at multiple points—in fact, the audience once actually cheered and howled (before curtain call).
But the show is by no means lighthearted. I cried at multiple points in the musical. In those moments, my only consolation was the sniffling of the audience members surrounding me.
Two qualities which make this musical unique are its usage of words and that it does not fully encapsulate the story. In the case of the latter, it picks the story up in a rather interesting middle and leaves you to figure out the conclusions and beginnings, dropping hints all the while.
The musical uses common speech and there are no grand soliloquies or fancy proclamations; rather, the story expresses its poetry through motifs of common items and double entendres buried inside of the music.
As for the music itself, one word: magnificent. I saw this musical once and immediately fell in love with the soundtrack. Over time, my love for certain songs in the soundtrack faded, but the Tulsa PAC reinvigorated that love.
Its performance showed me things I had never noticed before, and its cast performed the songs well, sometimes with their own additions.
I was absolutely stunned by their performance. Only one thing bothered me, at one point during a song, the main character’s microphone cut out. She, nonetheless, sang audibly and beautifully.
Perhaps my favorite part of the show was its challenging notions of love. Opposing the pristine perfect loving relationships shown in movies like the Fault in our Stars, “Next to Normal’s” relationships are highly flawed, rendering their mere existence more beautiful. The imagery embraced in this show forced me to reconsider what I think love is. Forcing the audience to think about something is a crucial piece of any artwork, and this musical more than satisfied that criterion.
Lastly, the acting in this production was superb. At times the on-stage portrayal caused me physical pain. One outstanding actor was Thomas Williams, who played both of the doctors. He effortlessly glided between solemn instruction, dry humor, not-so-dry humor, and genuine caring.