Last weekend my daughter wanted me to see Next to Normal, a rock musical playing at our local performing arts center. In her adolescence, Hello Dolly was her favorite musical. A few years ago it changed to Rent. Now in her twenties, she declared Next to Normal trumped them both, making it an absolute must see!
I went, of course. How could I not, when she was both entreating AND treating? Not only that, but since I don’t live a normal life, I hoped it might inspire me to live a next to normal life – whatever that is.
The 2008 musical, which has played on and off Broadway and all over the world, won three Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps what makes it so appealing is that it’s anything but trite. Delving deep into the issues of mental illness, Next to Normal portrays one mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder and hallucinations, and how each member of the Goodman family is affected.
The story brings up questions with no obvious answers. We see each character’s pain, each person’s frustrations, and each family member’s attempt to help and to cope. We see everything, that is, except the solution.
None of us watching know which treatment will help more than it harms. Nor do we know how to console the daughter who feels invisible. We don’t even know why the husband has stayed, and he doesn’t seem to know either. All we know is, we want everyone to be healed and happy and whole.
What makes Next to Normal so powerful is that it’s not just the Goodman family we want this for. It’s our own family. We want a solution to the pain, a recipe for healing, and a hope for tomorrow. If our unique challenges prevent us from being normal, we want to at least be next to normal.
As I watched the Goodman family struggle to come to terms with their past and face their future, I saw my own family’s struggles. In fact, I saw all families everywhere. I know we are all different, but in this way we are all exactly the same. We are all trying not to let past events and present circumstances destroy our future. At least, that’s what I hope we’re doing!
My daughter warned me this would be a tear-jerker and the tissue I brought with me came out during the final song. But I wasn’t crying over a sad ending. I was crying because Next to Normal reminded me I am not alone in my pain. It also reminded me that in the darkest of times there will always be a light to lead us forward.
The song’s compelling lyrics speak to my own journey of trying to stay sane and hopeful amidst insanely complicated challenges. Perhaps they will speak to you, as well. You don’t even have to go to the theater. You can listen right now to the original Broadway cast recording of Next to Normal’s finale Let There Be Light. In fact, I truly hope you will take the time to do so.
Normal is something many of us long for, but few attain. Next to normal, on the other hand, is something we can do. In fact, if you want to know how to live a next to normal life, it’s really quite simple. Just fight the good fight and focus on the light. After all, you never know what tomorrow may bring!