11 Tony Nominations. 3 Wins. A Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Next to Normal is the rock musical that shook 2009, and the score isn’t the only thing that is electrifying.
It’s hard-hitting. It’s gritty. It’s sad. But, above all, it’s true. And it meets us in the alley of our mind most of us have spent the majority of our lives shying away from.
It rips down the kitchen curtain of suburban America, allowing us to peer into the life of the stereotypical “perfect and loving” family. Pop the pills in their medicine cabinets. And sit at the dinner table with their depression.
Diana, the mother, is desperately searching her heart to provide love to her daughter and husband through the haziness of hallucinations and severe depression. It’s heartbreaking to see a mother trying her best to feel numb. We cry with her husband trying to hold on to thin air. We empathize with the frustration of the daughter as she attempts to churn chaos into brilliance, in order to seek approval and attention, and her place in the family.
Composer Tom Kitt and book writer/lyricist Brian Yorkey wrote a show that shattered the normality of a hard working family— a family that could just as easily be yours or mine.
It’s no secret that discussions of mental health are taboo in the Black community. No matter how much we as beautiful and strong African Americans persevere and provide, it’s okay to admit that depression, thoughts of suicide, drug abuse, and mental imbalance permeate our seemingly impenetrable skin and the lives of those we love.
Sometimes we need help and no, it’s not a sign of weakness.
Sometimes we need someone to talk to. And it’s okay if it’s a therapist.
Our family and faith hold us down. But we must understand that, sometimes, this is just not enough.
This work strikes so close to home because it reminds us that we’re all truly living on an avenue to the left of Normal, several blocks from Average, and across the tracks from Easy. It’s about time we bring this pressing topic to the stage with people who look like us and embody our truth.
In 2012, Director David Norwood and Musically Human Theatre mounted a production with Nicole Powell (Ragtime, Hairspray) as Diana. Producers were on the money with realizing the opportunity in casting a Black woman as Diana and how it could shed light on mental illness in the Black community. We could and should do more.
We need to see a strong Black man and father standing by his wife’s side, through thick and thin, and in sickness and in health. We need to see a Black daughter—beautiful, intelligent, and musically adept—crumbling under the pressure of a dysfunctional family, but fighting to hold them together. We need to see a Black family cope and search for hope, in the darkness of the loss that has waged a different toll on all of them.
It’s time to stop sidestepping this pressing topic and bring it to the eyes of our people, through one of the most powerful pieces of this lifetime. If we build a masterpiece for us, our people will come. Hopefully, then we’ll be ready to dialogue and make changes to the ideology of our future, starting from within.
Next to Normal originally opened on Broadway in 2009 starring Alice Ripley, Aaron Tveit, Brian d’Arcy James, Jennifer Damiano, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Asa Somers.