by Martin Brady
From its initial workshops to off-Broadway shows, then from Washington, D.C.,’s Arena Stage through a Broadway run of almost two years, Next to Normal has challenged performers and audiences alike with its daringly told story about a suburban family and the many emotional minefields they must navigate, including bipolar disorder, suicide, drugs, grief and even psychiatric ethics. It’s billed as a rock musical — with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt — and guitars and percussion often drive the songs, though the pulse of its modern urgency is conveyed equally via dramatic piano and plaintive strings.
With its unconventional approach to the integration of lyrics and dialogue, Next to Normal is clearly stamped as a contemporary piece of the post-Rent era, and it’s been recognized as something special via the Outer Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Score, its Drama Desk Award nominations, its three 2009 Tony Awards, and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama — only the eighth musical in history so honored. Boiler Room Theatre mounts the Middle Tennessee premiere with a cast of six headed up by Mike Baum, Ben Van Diepen and Megan Murphy Chambers, who takes on maybe the most demanding musical role of her considerable Nashville career as the manic wife and mother Diana.