On Heritage Festival’s “Next to Normal”

Friends —

Those of you who read this blog, and have listened to me rant on theatre know that I don’t often rave, and I have rarely if ever ventured into commenting on works produced locally in the Charlottesville, Virginia region.  I have too many friends involved.

But I have to say, if you’re not too far away, you owe it to yourself to run not walk to see the Heritage Festival’s production of Next to Normal, in Charlottesville’s Culbreth Theatre,  and you’ve only got another week to do it.

I saw Next to Normal when it first came to Broadway from Arena Stage four years ago, shortly before I began recording impressions on this blog.  And I thought at the time that never were eleven Tony nominations (it won three) and a very rare (for a musical) Pulitzer Prize for Drama more richly earned.  It is a rock musical, but not the kind you’ll leave whistling tunes from.  It is a powerful, personal piece about a woman with bipolar disease and how it effects her family.  It deals with grief and loss, and drug abuse, and suicide, and medical ethics.

And yes, you should still go, knowing as you do now what you’re in for, and even though I had nothing whatsoever to do with it.  I love a good old-fashioned musical, with lots of laughs and songs I can sing.  This ain’t one of them.  Well yes, there are laughs too, but this will get to you in surprising new ways, and it will be ultimately uplifting and hugely rewarding.  It’s a rare piece of theatre that so brilliantly widens our insights both into ourselves and into the contemporary world we have constructed around us.  And it just might be remembered as the outstanding musical of our times.

Furthermore, for this production, Bob Chapel has attracted one of the most universally talented singing casts in years to the Heritage Stage at the University of Virginia.  His singers have always been good, but here, with what I imagine to be very difficult music sung throughout the play, led by the astounding Catherine Ogden, and with the inimitable Greg Harris as musical director, they are flawless — not a weak spot or note in the bunch.  The choreography, sound, set and lights are dramatic, simple, and powerfully effective.  And the fast pacing will not give you time to be distracted.

There may not be a perfect world out there, or a “normal” person in all of our human population.  But as Diana and her daughter agree, “Next to normal is okay.”  It’ll have to be.

If you’re within range, go see it folks.

P.S.  I’ve been derelict in making blog entries of late, I know, — not a good way to build a following.  I just wanted to add here, look for more coming up in the near future.  There is after all, more to life than theatre, but the best of theatre is life.  (Someone must have said that already.)  I’ll be widening my focus here and adding to the category list for some upcoming adventures to combine my love of both.  In other words, “Who am I, how did I get here, and why does it matter?”  Kind of fundamental questions in life AND the theatre, right?

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3 Responses to On Heritage Festival’s “Next to Normal”

  1. Stephen says:

    Having no interest in rock musicals, I won’t mind giving up my seat to one of your other readers. I understand your unwillingness to comment on Charlottesville theatre, as you know so many people there, but I am sorry to miss your take on local productions. In any but the very largest cities there seems to be a reluctance to say anything at all critical of local performances, perhaps not just to avoid alienating people one knows, but also out of a fear that anything slightly negative would hurt a fragile box office.

    • Bill Rough says:

      So good to hear from you, Stephen. Feisty as ever, thank heavens! I’m not a great lover of rock musicals myself. But then there was Superstar, and Godspell, and Phantom, and now Next to Normal. Obviously I’ve been won over, corrupted, seduced. Just to generate some fervor, I will admit to never falling for Evita or Rent. To Bob’s credit, Heritage also ran “Red,” this summer, but couldn’t anywhere near fill the seats — even with such a fine script about art and commercialism and Rothko. Hmmm. Even Clair raved about NTN, highly unusual. So hopefully the box office will pick up in the next week
      Hope you are well. We need a reunion.

      • Speaking of box offices, how are theaters in your neck of the woods doing these days, economically, in general? From what I have read, theaters in the UK, once heavily subsidized by the government, are now facing the scary reliance on the box office that American theaters have long endured. If one percent of the American audiences for wretched Hollywood blockbusters went to live theatre instead, how wonderful for American theatre. Hollywood could use some tough love, too, probably. Best wishes to Heritage.

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