During one song in Searching For Normal: The Musical, the cast asks the audience what they would do if they were in the minority?
I don’t know what I would do. The characters in Searching For Normal: The Musical certainly are faced with difficult situations, which is compounded with the realization this show is based on the memoirs of creator Alison Neuman. I know that I would want to be treated with kindness, respect and compassion. It seems like this is what Alison wants as well.
Searching For Normal: The Musical debuted at the 2013 Edmonton International Fringe Festival. This is my favourite festival in Edmonton, and generally if there is one type of theatre performance I will gravitate toward it will be a musical. Sitting down at the Westbury Theatre, the only thing I knew about the show was the description provided in the Festival Program Guide:
“A girl with a debilitating disease fights to stay alive and find her definition of normal. She achieved with life milestones with her mom, her best friend, by her side. A stalking nemesis attacks. She must find a balance to learn to trust, believe and love once again.”
We all struggle with our identity. We all question what is normal, but Alison has had to confront this question since she was a kid when she was diagnosed with Dermatomyostis, which is a very rare inflammatory muscle disease. In Searching For Normal: The Musical the character of adult Alison starts the show telling the audience about her condition and the musical begins looking at Alison as a young child, moving toward her life in adulthood.
It quickly becomes apparent that Alison’s mother Violet is her champion. Violet defends her daughter and stands up for her care during a childhood filled with hospital stays and medical tests. When young Alison is questioning things like why she has to stay in the hospital, or why she has to use a wheelchair, Violet is there to reassure her daughter that she is normal.
The relationship between Violet and Alison is quite strong, and really overshadows the relationships between anyone else in the show. This factor becomes important later in the show when it transitions from Alison’s life as a child to a young adult attending University and trying, like many young adults, to balance school, family and a personal life. The story of Searching For Normal: The Musical seems to be about Alison’s search to find normal is society with living with Dermatomyostis. Close to end of the show the focus shifts and focuses on Alison’s relationship with her ailing mother who has now been diagnosed with Dementia.
The story of Searching For Normal: The Musical is a powerful and true story. It is certainly one that deserves to be told, and being a lover of creative-nonfiction I will likely purchase up Alison Neuman’s memoir when it becomes available. Aside from the strong story there were many things I liked about the show. I loved that they used a real child (not an adult playing a child) for the role of young Alison. I found the performances from Danielle Weisz and Dylan Thomas Evans to be particularly strong, and I loved the inclusive dance number, which incorporated dancers with a range of physical abilities and disabilities.
Still there were things about the show that I found lacking. Many of the songs weren’t memorable, and I was wishing there was a live band or some kind of accompaniment on stage during the performance. Some of the singing was hard to hear (I don’t believe the performers were using microphones), and some of the songs seemed to be out of range for a few performers. I also found parts of the spoken exposition between songs, especially those describing medical terminology to be clunky. I actually wish those lines could have been incorporated in a song, or with music.
I’ve seen many musicals, both professional and amateur productions, and I know that musicals can effectively take on more serious subject matter. Searching For Normal: The Musical has a powerful story, but the show itself needs some work and polishing up. Taking on this subject as a musical, rather than a play, is certainly an ambitious effort and could not have been easy. Perhaps Alison Neuman likes taking on these kinds of challenges and proving to people that like her character says in the show, “normal is just a laundry setting.”
For more information on Searching for Normal: The Musical click here.