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Next to Awesome

Patrick McManus | Wednesday, October 24, 2012


This weekend the Pasquerilla East Musical Company presents “next to normal.” The musical tells the story of a mother’s chronic mental illness and the effects it has on her and her family. 

It is not exactly typical musical fare. That seriousness, however, earned “next to normal” the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010, one of only eight musicals to win that award. The show also took home three Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in 2009. 

Director Charlie O’Leary was at first hesitant to take on such a lauded and serious show but felt compelled to do so. 

“[It was]one of the most powerful musicals I’ve seen,” he said. 

He also knew that there would be a lot of interest in the show. The cast of six has been tirelessly rehearsing for only the past four weeks, not including fall break, to put on this amazing production, which is entirely the result of the vision and talent of passionate students.

Producer Nathan Williams was confident that even though it is a difficult show dramatically, emotionally and musically, the cast was able to handle it and turn in great performances.

Graduate student Will Docimo ,who plays Dan, the father and husband character, said he likes how the musical is untraditional.   

“It’s a good example of how musicals can be a serious medium, rather than just lights and flash,” Docimo said. 

Indeed, by taking on a more solemn subject matter than most musicals and handling it in a responsible and engaging way, “next to normal” proves to be a unique theatrical experience.

The plot, though full of revelations, is not really the point. Rather, the feel of the musical becomes paramount. More than a story, it is a sense of what certain things feel like and it does it very well.

“next to normal” is a moving show that does not allow the audience to forget the mental anguish or fragility of its characters. It is held back from being an outright depressing experience by deft direction and acting, and its beating heart, the rock score. The music, composed by Tom Kitt, with lyrics by Brian Yorkey, has an eclectic feel that can set different moods. Yet, it moves with a fluidity that never really makes you feel comfortable. 

Although O’Leary says “characters and story remain forefront,” the show’s subject matter and portrayal of a character living with bipolar disorder creates an opportunity for this show to not just raise awareness, but start a dialogue across the campus community. To that end, the production is partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter of Notre Dame, who will have a booth at the show.

For people who like musicals and even people who traditionally have been put-off by sillier and more chipper musicals, this production of “next to normal’ is a must see. Honestly, it is nothing like, and so much better, than when my high school did “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Tickets are available for purchase ($6 for students, $8 for the public) at the LaFortune Box Office and at the door. Performances will take place in Washington Hall on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Patrick McManus at [email protected]