"I don't need a life that's normal That's way too far away But something next to normal Would be okay Yeah, something next to normal That's the thing I'd like to try Close enough to normal To get by"
—Natalie, "Maybe (Next To Normal)"
Next to Normal is a Tony-and-Pulitzer-award-winning rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. The story centers around a Dysfunctional Family consisting of bipolar depressive housewife Diana, who suffers from delusional episodes, her husband Dan, who has been struggling with taking care of her on and off for the past sixteen years, their charming but unruly son Gabe, and their disaffected musician daughter Natalie. Also involved are Natalie's on-and-off boyfriend, Henry, and Diana's doctors, Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden.Originally, it was developed as a ten-minute short called Feeling Electric, inspired by a news report Yorkey saw about electro-convulsive therapy.The show opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on April 15, 2009. It was nominated for eleven Tony awards and won three of them: Best Score, Best Orchestrations, and Best Performance by a Leading Actress.
Dark Reprise: "It's Gonna Be Good" is a bouncy, happy tune about Dan's excitement for dinner with the family. The reprise is a tense argument between him and his wife.
"I'm Alive", while very dark in substance in its initial iteration, becomes even more overwhelmingly vicious halfway through its reprise — Gabe becomes very vehement in tone and word choice as he re-asserts his control over Diana.
"And the medicine failed and the doctors lied..."
Technically, when you think about it, all the reprises in Next to Normal are dark- except for the reprise of "Perfect for You." "You Don't Know" itself is a dark, sort of vicious-sounding song- but the reprise is even darker, talking about Diana struggling to regain her memories- and then it goes into Mood Whiplash when Madden says "Have you talked of your depression, your delusions, and your son?" and Diana remembers that Gabe is her son who died sixteen years ago.
Similarly, the reprise of "I Am the One" is pretty dark, as Diana has just left her husband and Dan sits alone- that is, until Gabe shows himself to his father.
"But you've always known who I am..."
"I Am The One" is an odd reversal. The first one starts out, while not happy, positive as Dan tries to tell Diana that he will always be there for her then Gabe appears and asserts his control on her as he berates Dan for acting like he doesn't exist Then in the reprise, it starts out darker as Diana is leaving Dan and he sings about his frustrations that he has stayed with her for years through her problems and yet she chooses to leave. Then Gabe appears again, but this time he is staying with Dan to make him come to terms with his son's death. Thus, although not quite happy, the song ends on a positive note.
Dawson Casting: Partially averted—although Aaron Tveit was twenty-five playing eighteen, Jennifer Damiano was still in high school herself when she started playing Natalie in the original off-Broadway production.
Dead All Along: As we find out half an hour in, Dan and Diana's son Gabe has been dead for sixteen years.
Feel No Pain: Diana has many complaints that her medication makes her suffer new problems each time it is altered, such as weight gain, sweating for no reason, constipation and nausea. However, after a while she claims "I don't feel like myself...I mean, I don't feel anything."
Dr. Madden: Hmmm. . . patient stable.
Averted when she throws away her medication in "I Miss The Mountains" because she misses her younger self, who felt pain, depression, happiness, sadness and even mania; but at least she felt.
He's Back: When Gabe returns at the end of "Why Stay?/A Promise" behind Dan when Diana and Dan are about to embrace. Diana issues an "oh no" and turns Dan to face the (presumably) empty space where Gabe is, to which Dan yells a long "GODDAMMITTTT!"
IAmSong: "I'm Alive". "Everything Else" is an interesting variation, since it's an I Am Song sung in the second person by the subject of the song (i.e. Natalie's singing about herself, but using the pronoun "you"). "I Am the One"
Ironic Birthday: Gabe's birthday, when the delusional Diana bakes Gabe a cake, is when the audience explicitly finds out, from Dan, that "he's been dead sixteen years."
Meaningful Name: Gabriel, perhaps as in the angel who appeared to Mary in The Bible and told her she was pregnant.
Men Don't Cry: Deconstructed. Dan hides his emotions from his family until it eventually tears them apart, until his wife leaves and Natalie finds him sobbing alone in the dark and simply replies that "there will be light." Dan eventually agrees to see a therapist recommended by Dr Madden, after a long time of bottling up his emotions.
Missing Mom: As Natalie sings towards the end of the show "It's so lovely that you're sharing, no really; I'm all ears. But where has all this caring been for sixteen years?"
Mood Whiplash: The perky, bouncy, hyperactive "It's Gonna Be Good", followed abruptly by the revelation that Gabe has been Dead All Along; even more abrupt on the album, when the song ends and goes straight into "He's Not Here".
Also "Hey #1" after "Song of Forgetting." The former is Henry asking Natalie to the spring dance, whereas the latter shows Natalie's fury and frustration that her mother cannot remember anything. "What a lovely cure, it's a medical miracle! With a mind so pure, that she doesn't know anything!"
Dizziness, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction...headaches and tremors and night fears and seizures. Diarrhea, constipation, nervous laughter, palpitations. Anxiousness, anger, exhaustion, insomnia, irritability, nausea, vomiting- (Odd and alarming sexual feelings) Oh, and one last thing: Use may be fatal...
Sanity Slippage Song: Apart from the rather obvious examples, the usually "steadfast and stoic" Dan in "It's Gonna Be Good (Reprise)" as he refuses to name their son to Diana, and eventually smashes the music box that reminded Diana of Gabe at the end of the song, causing Natalie to issue a "Christ, Dad!".