Album of Note: Next to Normal - Original Broadway Cast Recording

Next to Normal - Original Broadway Cast Recording

Meet the Goodman family. Mother Diana is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Daughter Natalie is a chronic overachiever who feels her family ignores her; her brother Gabriel will always be the golden child in her mother's eyes. Father Dan tries his best to hold everything together in the face of pending disaster. Really, Next to Normal is just a bright, cheery, feel-good musical...

In all seriousness, I don't think I've ever been so moved by a musical. Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt (High Fidelity: The Musical) put together a powerful show exploring the potentially devastating effects of mental illness on a family. Their score is an inventive mix of dramatic rock and catchy pop that feels relevant to the present. The Goodman family feels real because the music is believable today, right now. The subtle shifts in style for each character and the integration and overlay of colors is gorgeous.

More impressive are the performances from the small cast. Alice Ripley (Diana) conveys a powerful sense of loss and confusion with her vocals. You can sense Jennifer Damiano's (Natalie's) frustration and anxiety with her mother and can't help but feel for her situation (seriously, watch the "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" video below and you'll get it). Asa Somers is convincingly trustworthy as Diana's doctor, and Brian d'Arcy James (Dan) is equally strong as the fleeting sense of parental stability in the recording. Aaron Tviet (the brother) and Asa Somers (the boyfriend) properly convey the poles of attention and love with their vocals.

The only issue with the Next to Normal recording is that, as a recording of a Broadway score, the story isn't clear. It just doesn't work as well out of context. I have to wonder what someone coming in without seeing the show thinks of "My Psychopharmacologist and I" or "Song of Forgetting." It's certainly worth listening to Next to Normal as I really can't see any other show walking away with Book and Actress at the Tonys. Then, once you've fallen in love, the logical step is to plan your trip into NYC (if feasible) and order your tickets to see the show.

I don't think a musical about Bipolar Disorder is going to have a long run on Broadway, especially after a nice run last year Off-Broadway. It's a little too dark, too real, too uncomfortable to last even if it wins Best Musical. The strength of the show will probably make it a popular regional production for a few years, though sudden developments in mental health research and care could make it as irrelevant Hitchcock's Spellbound. I'd hate for someone to regret not seeing this show live on Broadway like I regret missing the Broadway-transfer of Caroline, or Change.

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