You know, I think I’m sort of off base in that last entry. (But I’ll leave it there to keep myself aware of how easy it is to be wrong when spouting about one’s work ... and who’s reading this anyway?)
What’s remarkable about Next to Normal is its integration of newer musical styles into the musical theatre vocabulary. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s artfulness at invoking various pop styles - funk, folk-rock, arena rock, punk (and the fact that it doesn’t sound like outsiders imitating those styles) is very special.
Plenty of other composers have played with style variety. Lloyd Webber does it a lot - Superstar has its odd meter song, it’s folk ballad, it’s jazz tune - and that became the nature of many concept albums - some meant to be plays, some just meant to be albums. But sometimes the variety of styles serves more as a Chinese menu, one from column A, one from column B ... they didn’t really contribute to the play - they are there to keep the ear entertained. But I think it’s different here - I think there’s playwrighting going on through the use of style.
As I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, I think rock does not have a wide emotional range. But within that range it does quite well at expressing rage, frustration, scorn, ecstasy, etc. The authors have used musical style to hit those emotions with real truthfulness. And they don’t make the mistake of trying to use pop styles for moments where it wouldn’t work.
As orchestrater I had so much fun crossing back and forth over the boundary lines of style - always aware of what world I was in at the particular moment, but always ready to travel along as the authors jumped over the fence into new territory. (Ouch - metaphors are dangerous - best left to real writers.)
Am I gushing? Of course - it’s previews right now, and I’m in the flush of loving a show I just finished orchestrating, that others have not yet started to rip apart.