Northeast Times

‘Next to Normal’ now showing at the Academy of Music

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.

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