This the first of a series of behind-the-scenes articles on McLean Community Players’ production of Next to Normal. Today, Director Lisa Anne Bailey introduces the show and her cast.
The average musical gives us a series of characters that must overcome some dramatic conflict or complication, but in general flourishes triumphantly by the end of Act 2 – all accomplished via the music, lyrics and book; these continue to entertain the theatergoer. Some of the newer musicals of today have a darker edge to them, taking on current day issues and problems.
Next to Normal revolves around a family coping with the mother, Diana and bipolar disorder that she has been struggling with for 16 years – since the death of her 18- month old son. This son Gabe, now 16 years later, helps to tell his mother’s story. The entire family deals daily with normal family issues complicated by something far from normal.
The challenge of the piece as a director is in making sure not to lose sight of any of the layers and to tell the “truth” about bi-polar disorder and how it affects each member of the family, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The excitement of telling the story of Next to Normal is that it is a multi-level story almost completely sung through. I believe that there are four layers – the first being that at its very root this is a story of love, especially the love between husband and wife. The husband in this story has one of those perfect loves – no matter what he will be there for his wife. The second layer of love is the love for a child, and the third layer of love is what to do when you don’t feel loved – the experience that the daughter contends with.
The second layer of the story is that of family and the survival of that family. The third layer of challenge combines love and family and what happens when challenge threatens the love and the family dynamics. The final layer of the story is that of growth and we see each member of the family grow and ultimately survive.
Auditions for this production proved that this show is very popular and has quite a following – 87 people auditioned for 6 roles and the level of talent was overwhelming. Musical Director David Rohde and I had the challenge of whittling that down to the right combination of actors with depth and singers that could handle a difficult score.
Nicky McDonnell captured the challenging role of Diana, the mother dealing with bi-polar disorder including moments of manic and depressing behaviors – with suicidal tendencies and hallucinations. Just your average female lead!
Brent Stone will play Dan, the ever-faithful husband who just wants everything to be normal again. Dan juggles a job, a daughter lost in her own world, a household, his own emotions and Diana – a daunting undertaking.
Catherine Callahan plays 16 year-old Natalie, very bright, extremely talented pianist who basically has been without a Mom for her entire life. Catherine has her Dad to turn to but because of his distraction with Mom, Natalie turns to a boyfriend and drugs to find her way.
Newcomer to community theatre Nick Dupre takes on the role of Gabe, the son who died 16 years ago. Gabe exists because his mother can’t let him gon. One of the hardest stories to tell because he really doesn’t have one, Gabe becomes Diana’s confidante and support system.
Alex Stone plays Henry, boyfriend to Natalie – a loner and a bit of a stoner. Henry is the best boyfriend a lost soul could have – one who listens, supports and loves no matter what is thrown at him and how much Natalie tries to push him away.
Quinn McCord plays the dual role of Doctor Fine and Doctor Madden. It is through the doctors that we learn the basics of the disorder as well as all of the medications and treatments available.
These six actors have agreed to tackle this emotional roller coaster of a ride and I for one, can’t wait to watch their story.
Next to Normal plays February 1-16, 2013, at The McLean Community Players at The Alden Theatre -1234 Ingleside Avenue, in McLean, VA. For tickets, purchase them online. Tickets may be also be purchased at the Box Office, by calling OvationTix at (866) 811-4111, or calling the Alden Theatre box office at (703) 790-9223. Box Office hours are: Wed & Thur: 5-9 pm Fri & Sat: noon-9 pm.