It’s the story of a modern family facing a crisis, revolving around a family that is impacted by a mother with bipolar disorder.
The Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal is filled with serious themes and complicated issues, yet plays out as a rock musical, and continues at the Academy of Music through Sunday.
With a contemporary score, actor Asa Somers describes Next to Normal as a powerhouse of a musical about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other.
“This show has popular music influenced throughout by pop, some rock, some country, show tunes and even more. It’s a unique blend that I haven’t seen before or since,” said Somers, who plays Dan, the father in the show.
“Next to Normal is a play almost entirely sung through as an opera, and is nothing like your grandfather’s musical,” Somers continued.
“It packs a wallop emotionally, and is a new breed of musical that delivers a kick in the gut, which I mean in the best sense of the word.”
Somers, who grew up in South Carolina, attended high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire before going on to receive his bachelor’s degree in English literature and theater at Yale University.
“Ever since I played Robin Hood in the fifth grade, I think I knew I wanted to be a performer,” Somers said.
“But when I got a little older and got involved in my local theater group, and played the Artful Dodger in Oliver, and then saw a touring production of A Chorus Line, I think my fate was sealed.”
At Yale, Somers played the title role in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and spent his senior year singing concerts with the University’s premier a cappella group, the Yale Whiffenpooofs.
After college — and some time spent making independent films — Somers left the stage and screen to join the world of rock ’n’ roll, playing in a number of successful bands around the country.
But the stage kept calling, because, as Somers explained, “As actors we get to play make-believe for a living. We get to assume new and different characters and identities all the time, and then come back and be ourselves again. It’s like going on a journey, and the hours we spend on stage go by in the blink of an eye as we almost disappear into this other reality for a while.”
Somers got to “disappear” in many roles, including a stint in Next to Normal on and off Broadway.
He was also seen on television in such productions as The Good Wife, Gossip Girl, Ugly Betty, Law and Order and more.
And when it came time to take Next to Normal on the road, Tony Award winner Alice Ripley, who plays the mother in the show, asked specifically for Somers to join her to take the father role.
“The father in the show needs to have patience in great supply. He’s like a saint, and we have to ask the audience to believe he truly loves this woman enough to stick around for eighteen years given the circumstances that quickly unfold,” Somers said.
“And we have to get that love across in very efficient ways, because we have very few moments to embrace, kiss and demonstrate that we are in love,” he added.
According to the actor, the show asks many difficult questions that cannot be answered in any definitive way except to say that there is hope.
“When you wake up the next morning, this is the kind of piece that you’re still thinking about,” he said. “It’s powerful and, I believe, unforgettable.” ••
For show times and ticket information, call 215-731-3333.