Sometimes I think the very best plays, movies, books and stories are the hardest to describe to someone. “What’s it about?” friends ask, and we try to tell them and we’re at a loss. “You just have to see it,” we say. Next to Normal is one of those shows. It doesn’t fit any mold. It’s a musical, but not a bubbly tap- dancing musical. It has romance, but it’s not a romantic comedy. It has its mysteries, but it’s not a mystery. It has rock music, but it’s not a rock concert. You just have to see it.
The writers of Next to Normal, composer Tom Kitt and playwright and lyricist Brian Yorkey, said they set out to write a musical about a woman undergoing ECT—electroconvulsive therapy. In fact the show’s original title was actually “Feeling Electric”—but soon, as Kitt and Yorkey tell it, they realized that Next to Normal was not about a single event or even a specific illness. It was not a show about a disease, it was a show about people—an ordinary, but challenged family and the struggles they face every day. All families have their struggles, which is why Next to Normal has struck chords with so many. The one note drama of Feeling Electric, evolved into Next to Normal, a full symphony of emotions as it follows one family’s hopes, dreams, laughter, tears, frustrations and anger. Along the way, one of the most original and imaginative musicals ever came into being—a unique show that proved that musicals don’t have to be light and fluffy but can take on serious themes. Audiences were moved, the critics raved, and Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize, an accolade rarely bestowed on musicals.
We are honored to be able to bring this special show to the Lowcountry for the first time—and to do so with an amazing, all professional cast including our two guest actors Annie Freres and Sean Hayden. They are joined by members of Charleston Stage’s Resident Professional Acting Company, Jacob Dickey, Aaron Hancock and Jesse Siak, as well as outstanding Charleston actress Celeste Riddle. The show also marks the Dock Street debut of the College of Charleston’s Charlie Calvert, our guest scenic artist who designed the show’s spectacular set. Add in a Tony nominated rock score, a live band led by Charleston Stage’s Resident Music Director, Sam Henderson, and we have a not to be missed evening in the theatre.
Putting this show together has been a moving experience for all of us and we look forward to sharing the remarkable musical with you. When the performance is over, you will probably find it difficult to explain to your friends just what this stunning and moving show is all about. So just tell them, “You have to see it for yourself.”
Julian Wiles, the Director of Next to Normal, is Charleston Stage’s Founder and Producing Artistic Director.