Tuesday, October 4, 2011

'Next to Normal': Bittersweet beauty of love and loss

Original article can be found HERE 

 MANILA, Philippines  - “Next to Normal” delivers beyond its title: It’s extraordinary.

The US rock musical, which debuted off-Broadway in 2008, boldly breaks out of the confines of generic stories, tackling a not-so-often discussed subject, which is told mostly through nearly 40 brilliant songs exposing the characters’ innermost struggles and sincerest reflections on life, love and relationships.

Librettist/lyricist Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt expand theatric freedom by putting bipolar disorder, a psychological condition characterized by intermittent and extreme mood shifts, in the center, as well as its impact to family members who’ve long been yearning for something “normal.”

The tandem also did an awe-inspiring job in the music department. The lyrics border on the conversational and personal (and sometimes humorous) yet it powerfully reflects universal emotions, while the melodies--mostly created with piano, guitar and violin---feel naturally familiar and accessible to the point that the songs can go beyond the theater and onto radio.

And considering that “Next to Normal” has won a slew of Tony awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (thus cementing it as one of the very few musicals in history to have attained such feat), this musical may well be one of the best productions to have invaded Philippine theater.

Since it’s a musical, there’s an instant connection with the Filipino audience, whose love for music is second nature. But more than that, local theater-goers will most likely find a version of themselves in any of the characters exemplary portrayed by the cast consisting of Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (Diana), Jett Pangan (Dan), Bea Garcia (Natalie), Felix Rivera (Gabe), Markki Stroem (Henry), and Jake Macapagal (Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden).

Diana, Dan and Natalie struggle to be a normal family, but it seems to be far from reach. Diana suffers from bipolar disorder, and has hallucinations of her son Gabe, whom she lost when he was just eight months old, way before she gave birth to her daughter. Worse, the matriarch has a long-running gap with her daughter Natalie.

Through the support of her husband Dan, Diana undergoes several types of medications in hopes of getting cured. However, she eventually realizes that her wounds run so deep that pills or even an electroshock therapy can't treat them.

The local cast, especially Lauchengco-Yulo, captured the rawness and conflicting tensions of their characters, making for very affecting performances that we find it difficult to choose our favorite number. Stroem, who plays the love interest of Natalie, displayed vocal maturity and range, although still not that far to make us forget of his “heartthrob” image during his “Pilipinas Got Talent” days.

Kudos also to the stage design (by Lex Marcos) and lighting design (by Shoko Matsumoto) of the musical---the multiple layers of the stage that presents the family’s home, and the soft lights on the walls (and notably the “lightning” tracing the walls in one of the scenes) made the whole stage alive and useful, in a classy, unfussy yet still edgy fashion.

Viewers will be inspired in the emotional roller coaster that is “Next To Normal” as it presents the painful yet liberating experience of letting go of what causes us hurt, not just for the sake of ourselves but also for those that we love.

Catch Atlantis Productions' NEXT TO NORMAL (THE REPEAT)
on October 15, 2011 / Sat / 2PM @ RCBC 

Contact Us:
Onay Sales (0918.536.2116)
RC Marzan (0922.888.5348)
Borgy Marzan (0922.888.5344)
or  email: watchplays@yahoo.com

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