Integration and Disintegration in Next To Normal

Clare Chandler

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    Romance and romantic entanglements are the fuel of musical theatre, igniting words and music (to paraphrase Engel and Kissel 2006:113) to create entertaining and successful shows (Knapp, 2006) with uplifting happy endings. Whilst critical exploration might expose cracks and highlight how deceptive such happy endings actually are (Kirle, 2005:2), their normative force in performance perpetuates and reinforces gender hierarchies and stereotypes: ‘Women wait for love, men bring it’ (Barnes, 2015:51).reinforces fantasies of patriarchal superiority and affirming damaging gender binaries. Next to Normal eschews the ‘marriage trope’, whereby jagged edges are smoothed by romantic union, employing instead ‘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). Scott McMillan argues that the driving factor in musical theatre isn’t seamless integration but ‘the crackle of difference’ as the musical shifts between ‘book time’ and ‘lyric time’ (McMillan 2006). Next to Normal ‘combines its use of music with issues of visibility in order to reveal multiple views of reality’ (Donnelly, 2014:18), arguably marking a moment of transition within the musical theatre genre. The audience spends about eighty per cent of the show suspended in lyric time without the option to return to the perceived normalcy of book time, thus expanding the genre’s capabilities.’(McMillan, 2006: 22). As herstory has its eyes on musical theatre Next to Normal deserves to be lauded as the important work it is and the aftershocks it has created need to be further explored and investigated. This article reflects on the implications of engaging with Next to Normal on its own terms for pedagogical practice: in what ways might it be possible to explore through practice the critical potential of this work?
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)82-86
    JournalMTEA Journal
    Early online date31 Jan 2019
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2019


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