Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Next to Normal Philippines: A Musical About Pain, Loss & Love

by Maria Ressa

Original Article can be found HERE 


How do you know that what you know or feel is real? What certainty do you have in your view of the world? What if the person you love only brings you pain? These are only some of the questions you’ll have after watching Atlantis Production’s Next to Normal in Manila.
It’s a rollercoaster ride that leaves you crying then laughing. It is exhausting. Part of the power comes from the parsing of information – a deliberate build-up of what you know about its characters. Ten minutes into the show you realize that the main character Diana (played by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) is manic depressive. In fact, the opening song skillfully blends – in song and staging – its characters’ versions of reality and fantasy.

I won’t spoil it for you by telling you more than this because the revelations and a-ha moments are part of what makes the experience memorable. Director Bobby Garcia said to bring tissues, and he was right. Garcia has pushed the growth of musical theater in the Philippines, bringing in productions which challenge Filipino stereotypes. He splits his time between New York, London, Toronto and Manila. He has a long list of credits, but let me pluck from past and future: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, ZANADU, URINETOWN, HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH, Associate Director for MISS SAIGON and Hong Kong’s Disneyland’s first Show Director. He is about to open SACRIFICE, a musical he’s developing on London’s West End! He also brought RENT to Manila many years ago and compares NEXT TO NORMAL to that. Garcia said, “I think it’s the new RENT for those who’ve grown older and have new issues to deal with.”

NEXT TO NORMAL is – essentially – a thought-provoking musical about pain, love and loss. It is about the harshness of reality and the little things we humans do to cope. It is about hope and – as the final song says – light.

“Day after day
Wishing all our cares away
Trying to fight the things we feel,
But some hurts never heal.
Some ghosts are never gone,
But we move on.”

It’s a stretch from the campy musical lyrics to the pain the characters feel to an almost existential acceptance of it all.

“You find some way to survive, 
And you find out you don’t have to be happy at all to be happy you’re alive.”

Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo does a great job with an exhausting role. Make sure you get one of her CD’s – which has songs from NEXT TO NORMAL as well as her other favorites. Rocker Jett Pangan (who plays the role of her husband, Dan) moves away from his former overenthusiastic theatrical zeal to play a more low-key character punished by life and love. Although his performance sometimes lacks color, it is nice to see him play it straight especially given the power of his voice. Felix Rivera is stellar as their son, Gabe. Bea Garcia is their daughter, Natalie, dealing with the complexity of her family life and her own search for identity; Markki Stroem (from Pilipinas Got Talent) is her boyfriend, Henry, giving her support and a life outside her troubled family. Although uneven in comparison to the main couple, that budding relationship provides a stark contrast to the tragedy of daily living for Diana and Dan. Finally, the doctor characters are played competently by Jake Macapagal.

NEXT TO NORMAL takes musical theater down a new path. Its Filipino cast and creative team adapt universal themes and opens discussions on once-taboo topics in our society. This is better than the news or an intellectual explanation of manic depression and bipolar disorder. You understand it because you feel it.

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)
email: watchplays@yahoo.com

Seat Plan can be viewed here:



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