Aftershocks: Next To Normal and the crackle of difference

Chandler, Clare (2016) Aftershocks: Next To Normal and the crackle of difference. In: “History has its Eyes on You: Musical Theatre’s Moments of Transition” American Society for Theatre Research Annual Conference, November 2016, Minneapolis.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Presentation)
Item Status:Live Archive


‘Conventional musical theatre form – the telling of a story through speech, song, and dance – is linked to content: a love story and developing romance.’ (Wolf, 2011:8); what may be understood as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical theatre format, is remarkably resilient in the face of apparent attempts at re-making the form. It continues to underpin musicals widely regarded as ground-breaking, such as Rent (1996) and Hamilton (2015). This paper will argue that Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s “feel-everything musical’ (Brantley, 2009), Next to Normal (2008) resists incorporation into or deep structuring by received convention. Next to Normal employs rock music to underscore and enhance its emotional content, has a twist that still shocks after repeated exposure, and subverts the traditional ‘marriage trope’. Next to Normal’s protagonist chooses to enact the ‘divorce trope’- ‘in which a woman creates the sensibility of a musical by leaving an existing unworkable reality to invent herself’ (Knapp, 2016:822) - rather than conforming at the expense of her identity. Scott McMillan argues that the driving factor in musical theatre isn’t seamless integration but ‘the crackle of difference’ (McMillan, 2006:2) as the musical shifts between ‘book time’ and ‘lyric time’ (McMillan 2006). Next to Normal maximises the dynamic energy of the tension between linear Aristotelian narrative progression and cyclical repetitive musical development to explore the effects of mental illness on a suburban American family. This manifesto will explore how this predominantly sungthrough musical ‘combines its use of music with issues of visibility in order to reveal multiple views of reality’ (Donnelly, 2011:18). Because of this, Next to Normal may be understood as marking a moment 3 / 7 of transition within musical theatre genre. The paper will also consider the impact on audiences of spending some eighty per cent of the show suspended in lyric time without the option to return to the perceived normalcy of book time. The parallels between actual spectator experience and that of the show’s central protagonist Diana are suggestive, and the condition of immersion in music is all the more resonant when explored in relation to recent neuroscientific research (Molnar- Szakacs & Overy (2006); Keysers (2010)). The show also lends itself to analysis in a post ‘author-god’ (Barthes, 1977:52) environment, where multiple meanings and readings are permissible. Traditional audience/protagonist relations are challenged by the realisation that we have bought into Diana’s delusions, allowing us to choose between the differing narratives and realities of the show’s characters. The multi-dimensional idea is further developed by the original Broadway production’s use of Twitter to create a simultaneous cyber reality and allow even more readings and interpretations. It is recorded that one fan approached an actor in the show to ask if he tweeted from the wings. (Newman, 2009) This manifesto will be supported by a pedagogical exploration of extracts from the text in performance; analysing how theories, research and findings, such as those mentioned, intersect with repertoire to create a powerful piece of musical theatre. This session will actively engage with text and theory to explore musical theatre’s capacity to engage with audiences at a much deeper level than its commercial populist label would suggest.

Keywords:Feminism, Musical Theatre
Subjects:L Social studies > L216 Feminism
W Creative Arts and Design > W400 Drama
W Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Creative Arts > Lincoln School of Creative Arts (Performing Arts)
ID Code:52156
Deposited On:20 Oct 2022 13:20

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