When I first read about Next to Normal in an issue of Playbill this spring I thought, “Isn’t that tacky, a musical about being bipolar.” I was slightly offended, as I live with Cyclothymic Disorder, a similar and related condition. My mind was blown, however, when I saw the show’s performance number on the Tonys telecast. I was quickly engulfed in Diana’s struggle to function in a world that didn’t honor her pain and underlying illness.
I made immediate plans to travel to New York to see this stunning production. It occurred to me as I traveled to New York that I was making a pilgrimage. Next To Normal is something of a holy land, my new emotional Jerusalem. I had the opportunity to meet Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey; telling them how grateful I am that they were courageous enough to tell this story, to ask the questions that so many people are afraid to answer. They tell my story in a way on that stage.
Next To Normal touches a part of me that was hidden and separate for so much of my life that I am sometimes surprised it is still there. I see a little piece of myself in nearly every character. I see a story that is brave in its telling, taxing for the audience and tenacious in its goal of education and emotional growth for all involved. I am in love with the mess that is left for us at the end. It simply would have been outrageous to lay down a squeaky clean resolution, easier perhaps, though we would have been cheated. The things that are easy rarely carry much worth. I left the theatre secure in the knowledge that I had grown in spirit and soul. There is a piece of my being that now resides in the Booth, deeply invested into the heart of Next To Normal. I shed my tears and washed away the last bits of sorrow and shame, lighter and freer with a beacon of hope shining up from that stage.
Kelly Marie McKenna – Laporte, PA