Rock musical tackles difficult subjects

Friday, January 2, 2015

Your Voice
Friday, January 2, 2015
Shelley Koppel, Staff writer

STUART – When the arts and entertainment season hits its peak in the next few months, it is often the most visible and well-known performers and shows that get the attention. Before all of that starts, give some thought to the Lyric Theatre’s production of the Tony and Pulitzer-winning musical, “Next to Normal,” Jan. 23-24. The show stars Stuart’s own Karin Leone, director of operations and education at the Lyric.

“Next to Normal” is considered a rock musical, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitts. It tells the story of a mother, who is bipolar, and the effect her illness has on her family. While the subject matter is not the usual musical fare, there is also humor and a story about a family struggling with problems many families have faced.

After an off-Broadway run, “Next to Normal opened on Broadway in 2009. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won three. It also became only the eight musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The board that awards the Pulitzer Prize called the show “a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope for subject matter for musicals.”

Leone spoke recently about the challenges of the playing the mother, Diana Goodman, and of dealing with such serious subject matter.
Leone, who graduated from Martin County High School, sang in OPUS, the highly-regarded choral group there. She attended Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia where she majored in music theater and fine arts. After college, she worked in regional theater.

She has performed in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and produced “The Kid from Brooklyn: The Danny Kaye Story,” in which she played Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine. She received a Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Actress in a Musical for that role. Last season, she played Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls in Concert” at the Lyric.
Leone returned to Florida to live when her mother became ill.

“The Lyric was just starting a summer camp,” she said. “They hired me to be the drama director. At the end of the summer, John (Loesser, the Lyric’s executive director,) offered me a full-time job.”

Of “Next to Normal,” Leone said that it goes beyond the theme of mental illness in the Goodman family.

“There are so many things we deal with,” she said. “There are family dynamics, marriages, teenagers and dysfunction. The music is amazing. It’s a contemporary rock music that was a revolutionary show when it came to Broadway. There is humor. It’s relatable. Everyone relates to (the Goodmans) in some way.”

Leone said the the story is told from a variety of perspectives.

“Because it’s got kids, it’s an honest portrayal,” she said. “It’s almost like you’re a person peeking through the window. It’s from everyone’s perspective. Teens love it. It has a cult following among teens. Adults love it because we’ve all been through the same struggles. Everyone is sympathetic.”

Leone noted that the play does not make heroes or villains of the characters.

“The antagonist is the pharmacology industry,” she said. “It’s okay to be in pain and grieve. It’s finding the delicate balance between the therapeutic and burying things.”

In addition to Leone, the professional cast includes Kenn Rapczynski as Dan, Diana’s husband, Anthony Nuccio, as son Gabe, Collen Broome as daughter Natalie, Xander James as Henry, Natalie’s love interest, and Michael Hurst, II as the doctor. The director is Jared Walker, who directed “Guys and Dolls in Concert” last season.

Rapczynski, who is based in Sarasota, has appeared in “Les Miserables” and the first national tour of “Victor Victoria.” Nuccio, from New York, appeared locally in “Les Miserables” at the Riverside Theatre.

Leone said that there will be a six-piece musical ensemble and they have brought Ben Rauhala from New York to be the music director. He has directed four national productions of “Next to Normal.”

“He knows every nuance,” Leone said. “We’re excited to have him.”

For Leone, this is a wonderful opportunity to bring interesting and provocative theater to the Lyric.
“We’re excited,” she said. “It’s such a powerful piece that brings so many issues to light that people don’t talk about. It opens a dialogue.”

The Lyric Theatre, 59 SW Flagler Ave., Stuart, presents “Next to Normal” Jan 23-24. Performances are Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 24 at 4 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $45. Group Rates available.

For more information, call (772) 286-7827 or order online at