Patel Conservatory’s ‘Nor*mal: The Musical’ pushes awareness of eating disorders

The Patel Conservatory took on the issue of eating disorders in the musical Nor*mal this past summer presented on June 29-30 at the Straz Center.  This important play featured local high students, including Achona staffer Jessica Riddle, who wrote this feature.

What is “Normal”?  Well, it’s a play, a city in central Illinois, and a word that means being “part of the crowd.”  All definitions combine to make Nor.mal: The Musical. Now people may think, why such an odd title for a play?

The protagonist’s eating disorder in this musical play IS “normal” unfortunately for many teenagers.     The musical  is about a dysfunctional family who doesn’t realize their youngest daughter Polly is starting to show signs of the eating disorder anorexia. This play takes the perspective of the family’s view of helplessness when they learn of Polly’s condition.   Nor*mal brings forth the taboo subject of eating disorders and the devastating effects it has on the person, her family and friends.

Besides the important theme of this musical,  three songs stand out as effective in understanding this disorder:   “Pretty to the Bone,” “I’m Good, I’m Bad,” and “Write This.”  All three provide insights to how Polly views her life and how the eating disorder affects her.

“Pretty to the Bone” is a song Polly sings to herself with back-up dancers and bright lights.  But if playgoers really listen to the lyrics,  it is a song that should horrify them to your core. The song is about her getting skinnier and flying high like a bird, a little bird.  Polly’s voice in the song implies that anorexia is fun.  But the audience knows it’s not fun for the person dealing with this eating disorder. Behind Polly’s  need to control her diet is the need to control one thing in her life when she feels she is not in control of her life at all.  Polly feels her parents don’t understand how amazing she feels when she can control what she eats.

As the play goes on,  Polly’s eating disorder becomes worse, and her family starts to tear each other apart. Her dad leaves the house because her mother is trying to control the whole situation on her own. Polly’s sibling tries to make her understand that what she’s doing is awful to her body and that she may end up in the hospital –  or worse,  that she is going to die!

The song “I’m Good, I’m Bad” is between Polly and her sibling.  This song is about how her sibling wants her to eat, but Polly is afraid of what will happen if she eats. Polly has two voices in her head going back and forth between being a good girl and a bad girl. She realizes that this disorder is taking over her life and  that if she doesn’t try and stop, she will never be truly happy.

Polly’s sibling tells her that everyone is there for her, but  Polly  just cannot give up this one control in her life.   “You don’t see me staring at the mirror. You don’t see me wincing at the scale.  You don’t see me glaring at the clock at 4 a.m.”  Polly is in conflict with the “new her” whom she likes but of whom she is so afraid of it she doesn’t know what to do.

Her sibling hurts to see her like this and tries to tell her that people really care for her, that she isn’t alone in this, and that they are there for her: “I’ll break the mirror, I’ll break the scale, I’ll break the clock at 4 a.m.” This song emphasizes that no one is ever alone, even when they are fighting something like anorexia.

“Write This” is also a heart-wrenching song. The scene before is a blow-up between Polly and her mother. Polly has told her mother that she doesn’t care if she dies or not, that she will not go to the hospital for treatment and that she doesn’t care anymore what happens to her.  Her mother’s response – “Just tell me what you want written on your tombstone!” – triggers Polly’s list of different epitaphs she creates.

Overall, the play is an important social statement for awareness of all social eating disorders.  Ever since its first performance in 2002, non-profit organizations have sponsored its presentations in communities.  The lyrics and information  available on are worth anyone’s time in learning more about this unfortunately “normal” disorder among many teenage girls.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

For us to post your comment, please submit your name and email with the comment. Thanks!
All Achona Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
Patel Conservatory’s ‘Nor*mal: The Musical’ pushes awareness of eating disorders