Set at Barcelona’s IDEAL Digital Arts Center and crafted by British director Simon Pittman, “Next to Normal Immersive” takes the Pulitzer Prize winning drama by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt to new heights. The stupefying standout musical theatre piece that captivated audiences a decade ago now emerges at the Grec 2022 Festival as the first Broadway show to be staged in a disruptive new format.

Intensifying the brilliance of the original three-time Tony Award-winning production, Simon Pittman’s new sixty-minute version of “Next to Normal” embraces a fresh perspective.

“It’s quite a thing: I believe this is the first time a live musical has been staged within an integrated immersive audio-visual design like this. The challenge is how to truly blend intimate, live performances from the actors, with digital design? First—for me as a director, the story always comes first. Just simply sharing this amazing music and the story of ‘Next To Normal’ with a live audience is super powerful already, before you even start to integrate the amazing possibilities of digital art and immersive sound design. So with this live-digital creative process, I start with the same questions I always ask: ‘how do we best serve the story? What can intensify, or reveal more about the characters’ emotional and psychological journey through the show?’” said Pittman.

Collaborating with Yorkey and Kitt to expand the scope and scale, Pittman explores new modes of expression:

“We didn’t want to be too descriptive or literal with the visual designs. The show works on the idea that we experience the world from the main character Diana’s perspective. So our first creative idea was: how do you put an audience inside Diana’s head? Good challenge right? At times, Diana is a person experiencing episodes of mania, psychosis, and delusions; so messing with our perception of what is real is a great place to start. I think our break-through moment was working on the 3rd draft with writer Brian Yorkey when we divided the script into three columns: a column for the words, a column for live action and stage directions, and third for more poetic or provocative directions for video and sound. This really brought this unusual immersive approach to life for us, and as a director, it was the perfect place to start designing the show with digital artists DeScilence.”

A rarefied beauty, the adaptation of “Next to Normal,” takes on a totally new approach.

“I’ve been working closely with Brian and Tom to adapt the original version into this new 60-minute format in-line with immersive experiences such as Klimt or Monet. Today’s audiences are becoming used to 60-minute or even 20-minute formats on platforms such as Netflix, but our primary focus was on ensuring proper storytelling and honouring the original material with care. It’s been a fascinating and moving experience working on the new version. Brian and Tom’s openness and bold approach to testing this new approach to the show has been great; and we’ve been able to challenge each other creatively,” expounded Pittman.

Next to Normal Immersive at Grec 2022 Festival. Photo courtesy: IDEAL Digital Arts Center in Barcelona, Spain.

Taking into account site and space-specificity, namely a 20,000 square-foot venue, the reimagined story explores mechanisms of intertextuality.

“With the script, we always knew that the key to this version of ‘Next To Normal’ was that everything had to be seen as if through Diana Goodman’s perspective—that we see the world as if we are inside her head. Brian was brilliant in keeping the power and clarity of the story front and centre, yet was able to cut into it, developing a more intimate, Diana-focused version. I believe this version of Next To Normal,” expressed Pittman.

Alongside Tom Kitt’s guidance, music director Tommy Mayer Wolf elevates the sophisticated score from the original production to next level cool. Pittman gives an explanation:

“With the music, Tom’s reference was The Beatles stage show ‘Love’ in how it takes the original score and then expands and takes musical ideas further: he was very encouraging for our musical director and music producer to be bold—we are super excited about this.”

Next to Normal Immersive at Grec 2022 Festival. Photo courtesy: IDEAL Digital Arts Center in Spain.

At the center of the action are actors Alice Ripley, Andy Señor Jr., Jade Laurel, Eloi Gomez, and Lewis Edgar. Modes of presence include a virtual performance by Tony nominee Adam Pascal as the psychiatrist. Offering a thrilling new perspective to the story, Pittman spells out what the audience can expect from the moment they arrive:

“What should the audience expect? I must say, this is unlike any live show I’ve created or even seen before: you’ll experience an intimate, close-up relationship with the actors and the story, they literally walk amongst the audience—and at the same time; a spectacular 360 degree immersive sound and video design that will immerse you in Diana’s visceral journey through mental illness. Oh, and a rather special performance from the legend that is Adam Pascal as the psychiatrist Dr. Madden!”

Next to Normal Immersive at Grec 2022 Festival. Photo courtesy: IDEAL Digital Arts Center.

The formal staging of winning works presses on at Barcelona’s IDEAL Digital Arts Center—a playground for fresh approaches to programming. Jordi Sellas, the center’s executive director promotes an atmosphere of culture and beauty. The upcoming “Salvador Dali Metaverse” exhibition in late September is a delight not to be missed.

“Our big next step after NEXT TO NORMAL IMMERSIVE will be the opening worldwide the SALVADOR DALÍ METAVERSE exhibition, a new generation kind of show that will allow the visitors to literally walk and touch the surrealist paintings of the catalan arts genius. This will be the first time ever that visitors will fill the phygital experience mixing real live movements inside a digital metaverse,” said Sellas.

Sellas continued, adding:

“IDEAL is an arts center that works to create a new relationship between arts, technology, science, and society. Working in digital arts means that we need to have a very special approach to all the projects we produce if we want to be perceived as an open place for all kinds of audiences and not just the ones with more digital and technical knowledge. This makes us work in projects that are now touring in more than 20 cities in the world like FRIDA KAHLO or KLIMT, seen by millions of visitors. (To) conceptualize, produce and distribute digital arts in this wider audience range is both challenging and exciting.”

A warm welcome awaits you in Barcelona. The live in-person play runs through 31 July 2022. To take in the majesty of “Next to Normal Immersive” drop by IDEAL Digital Arts Center.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.

This post was written by Alexander Fatouros.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.