Monday, January 16, 2012

South Korea: 'Peace song' promotes nuclear terrorism-free world

The rock musical “Next to Normal” brings the story of a perfect-looking middle class family to the stage.

Dan (played by Nam Kyung-joo and Lee Jung-yeol) is an architect and devoted father with two children — his handsome and mischievous 18-year-old son Gabe (Han Ji-sang and Choi Jae-rim) and sweet, overachieving daughter Natalie (Oh So-yeon). However, their day goes wrong as the mother Diana tries to make too many sandwiches by spreading the ingredients on the table, a chair and even the floor.

She has been suffering from manic-depression with hallucinations for 16 years, casting a shadow over the whole family. A crack has been developing for years. Dan is exhausted and Natalie becomes rebellious, suffering from a lack of motherly love.

In this production, Kolleen Park and Kim Ji-hyun alternate in portraying the fragile character. Park is famed music director of “Rent” in Korea who also led the chorus on hit KBS show “Qualifications of a Man.” Kim is a veteran actress who was once a member of Japanese theater company Shiki and played Velma Kelly in “Chicago” here in 2008.

Park plays an edgy, sensitive woman suffering a mental disorder, while Kim is more subtle in expressing how Diana deals with her longtime problem.

Nam and Lee show Dan worn out by endless efforts to keep his family somewhat normal.

The show is composed of layers of relations between the characters. Diana and Dan’s relationship overlaps with that of Natalie and her boyfriend Henry, while Dan and Gabe create symmetry around Diana. Each character copes with their own problems in their own way.

The set is like a contemporary art piece. A silvery iron structure divides the stage into nine blocks which the actors dash around.
The ruptured space is similar to the breached relationships among the family members. With lights changing from white to red and purple to black, the scaffolding transforms between a middle-class house and Diana’s fractured mentality. The set also embodies the thin line between reality and fantasy and present and past.

A six-member band is situated on the second and third level of the stage, instead of in the orchestra pit, and performs more than 30 original rock songs, ranging from country to ballads.

Diana and Dan’s conflict bursts out in “You Don’t Know,” while Gabe asserts his presence through “I’m Alive.” Diana is desperate enough to attempt suicide in “Catch Me I’m Falling” and “I Dreamed a Dance” and her electroconvulsive therapy is described in "Wish I Were Here.”

Instead of heading to a stereotyped “everyone-lives-happily-ever-after” ending, “Next to Normal” shows how life goes on for the Goodman family in a rather ordinary, calm way. Diana finally confesses the family secret to her daughter and Natalie sings with Dan, “Give me pain if that’s what’s real. It’s the price we pay to feel.”

With script and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, the play made its debut off-Broadway in 2008.

Currently onstage at the Yonkang Hall of Doosan Arts Center in Jongno, central Seoul, the musical runs through Feb. 12. Tickets cost from 60,000 to 90,000 won. For more information, visit or call (02) 744-4033.

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