Ziegfeld Theater musical production is ‘Next to Normal’
Award-winning play deals with mental health
“Next to Normal,” winner of he 2010 Pulizter Prize for Drama, isn’t a typical musical.
The production, featuring the book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, is about a mother who struggles with bipolar disorder and the effects of her ailment has on her family.
Ziegfeld Theater Company will bring “Next to Normal” to the Egyptian Theatre for two weekends starting Friday, Sept. 8, and director Rick Rea is looking forward to the run.
“We produced the show four years ago, a few months after Ziegfeld officially opened, and it has been our most-requested show to bring back,” Rea said. “This is one of the most powerful musicals that we will bring to the Park City stage.”
It’s also a timely production, because over the past couple of years, Park City and Summit County residents have felt the loss of community members due to mental illness.
“The production is therapeutic and healing experience, and we think it will especially help people in Park City who have experienced these mental health issues,” Rea said.
The director also said he has never seen the Broadway production of “Next to Normal,” which helped him direct Ziegfeld’s version.
“It was important to make it personal and not try to recreate the New York production, because I wanted to create a piece of theater where the storytelling is through the actors’ faces, voices, hearts and souls,” he said. “That eliminated technical showboating. Instead, it got to the humanity that is so much further than what we get from most live theater.”
Rea said he has a personal connection to the story.
“You can’t produce, direct or present a show like this without putting your experiences on the table,” he said. “It’s been amazing to me to be able to be open about things that have usually been surrounded by shame.”
When he first directed the show in 2013, he struggled with some mental-health issues.
“In the four years since, I’ve been diagnosed with bi-polar type 2 and ADHD,” he said. “I finally was at a point of my life where mental health issues were impeding my ability to work and be happy in relationships.
“Since I’ve gotten help, my perspective has changed, and I’ve seen how important it is to look at all sides of these issues.”
Still, at its core, “Next to Normal” isn’t just about mental health, Rea said.
“It’s about dealing with pain and that no therapy, pill or quick solution will ever cure it completely,” he said. “It’s about the healing we do in our souls that transcends just fixing problems with counseling and medication. It goes to the next step.”
The cast for the Egyptian Theatre run features Shawnee Kennington as Diana Goodman (the mother), Craig Williams as her husband Dan, Hailee Olenberger as daughter Natalie and Tanner Horan as son Gabe.
To create a family bond, rehearsals have been more informal than the usual grind, Rea said.
“It’s been more like actors in a theater class who come together to collaborate on a scene,” he said. “It’s very personal, and during some rehearsals we decided to just connect with each other.
“Even with the heavy scenes, we wanted to make sure we found the joy of working with each other. That way, when we have to go deep, we can do so.”
The cast had an especially vulnerable experience earlier this week.
“One of our actors recently lost a parent, and some of the emotions in the show connect with that feeling,” Rea said. “We all knew the actor couldn’t go through the scene without being willing to allow themselves to feel those emotions tied to loss.
“The rehearsal was very powerful, but at the end of it, the actor felt very safe. It was a therapeutic experience.”
Rea said there is also another emotional connection he felt by revisiting the musical.
“The girl who played Natalie the first time we produced the play passed away a few months ago,” he said. “Her name was Jenessa Bowen. She was a very close friend, and that put things in perspective.
“While it has been difficult for us, it allowed the message of the show to sink in further. And we’re dedicating the show to her.”
Ziegfeld Theater Company will present Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s rock musical “Next to Normal,” for two weekends, Friday Sept. 8, to Sunday, Sept. 10, and Thursday, Sept. 14 to Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Evening curtain is 8 p.m. Sunday performances will start at 6 p.m. Thursday tickets range from $23 to $35. Tickets for Friday through Sunday performances range from $29 to $45.. For information, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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