Today I’m so excited to welcome someone who loves books and musical theatre as much as I do to talk about how musical theatre can be such a powerful tool, like books, to bring people together over issues that might be difficult to talk to. Paola Guerrero is such a powerhouse within the online book community. She is an editorial intern with Entangled Publishing, singlehandedly organized Latinx Heritage Month Book Fest this year, runs the Accidentally in Love Book Club and works with Caffeine Book Tours. She also has a Book Tube where she discusses books and musicals. You can find Paola across the Internet at her Linktree.
Last year, when I was still earning some money and I didn’t have all the worries that I have today, the stars aligned for el Buen Fin (think of it as Mexican Black Friday, but it’s the whole weekend) and I was able to take my mom to see the Mexican production of Next To Normal. For those of you who don’t know, Next To Normal is a musical about a mother (Diana) who struggles with bipolar disorder and how that affects her husband (Dan) and daughter (Natalie). It touches on grief, depression, suicide ideation, drug abuse, and ethics.
To be 100% honest, I watched a bootleg of the Broadway version when I was still in college and thought it was a solid musical. Nothing more, nothing less. But when I found out that Diego del Rio was doing it in Mexico, I was immediately drawn to it. I wanted to listen to it in Spanish and appreciate Rodolfo Zarco (he played Mark in RENT) and Susana Zavaleta (she’s a Mexican theater beast!). I had an idea of what to expect and I thought I was prepared, but nothing prepared me for what my mom would take from the show.
My mom is someone who takes mental health seriously only when it comes to her daughters. When I was 17 and severely depressed, my mom took me to a thanatologist to work through what was happening with me because, as the thanatologist said, “she had never seen her daughter like this.” But when it comes to her own mental health, it’s never a priority. Upon exiting the show and getting in the car on our way home, I said, “So that was good, huh?” To which my mom said, “Yeah, really, really good. I loved it.”
I was shocked! I would’ve thought her takeaway would be something like “too graphic, too exaggerated, I don’t buy it.” I should give her more credit, I know, but it was the kind of person I thought she was after everything that had happened to us in the last couple of years.
I didn’t even have to prompt her to tell me anything else, she did that all on her own.
(Spoilers for Next to Normal ahead!)
“It really goes to show that we’re all on the brink of going through something like that. How unexplored grief affects both you and your husband. And how men really are not raised to work on their feelings. I loved that part. I loved when he reached out to the psychiatrist and he offered him his card. The guy was like, no thanks, but then he was like, no I really do need to talk to someone. Wow!”
She said so much more that night and the day after as we were having breakfast with my grandparents. I was in a state of awe at how much my mom got out of the show that to this day, almost a year after we went to see it, I still think about my mom’s reaction to it. That’s what stuck with me, not the show or the performances (even though they were fantastic), but my mom’s take on it. I hope she still has it in her heart to see the importance of her own mental health as a mother, as a daughter and as a woman.