Musical tackles difficult subjects

Friday, April 12, 2013

By Shelley Koppel
Your Voice News & Views/Staff writer

STUART — Musical theater has tackled serious issues for decades. “South Pacific” dealt with racial prejudice. “Cabaret” was set in Nazi Germany amidst growing anti-Semitism. “A Chorus Line” and “Rent” brought up issues of homosexuality and drug use; the latter also tackled the difficult subject of HIV and AIDS.  “Next to Normal,” a rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, brings light on another once-taboo subject, mental illness and its effect on a suburban family.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2009, won three Tony awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Now, Jake Sanders’ Curtain Call Productions is bringing “Next to Normal” to the Lyric Theatre. The show will run from April 12- 14. Following matinees on April 13-14, there will be a discussion with cast members, the audience and a mental health professional.

Karin Leone plays Diana Goodman, the mother, who suffers from bipolar disorder. She talked about a challenging role in a challenging play.  “You meet the family: the mother, father, son and daughter, but early on, you discover that things are not as they seem,” she said.  “She has probably had the bipolar disorder, but a tragedy in the family triggers it.”

In addition to mental illness, the show deals with grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse and issues of ethics in psychiatry.  The crux is about modern psychiatry and being medicated versus being allowed to deal with the joy and pain that come with being alive,” Leone said.  The musical must tackle the question of how to treat an underlying mental illness while allowing a person to grieve and feel emotions of loss and pain so that they can move forward.  For Karin Leone, playing this role requires experience in life as well as theater.  “It’s scary,” she said. “I think in order to do it right, I have to be open to dealing with my own feelings. I couldn’t have done it 10 years ago. You have to have experienced pain, grief and loss.
I’ve had pain and loss that have given me perspective.”

In addition to Leone, the cast includes Robert Dawson as the father, Dan Goodman; Anthony Nuccio as son Gabe; Colleen Broome as the daughter, Natalie; Michael Hurst as both of the doctors; and Xander James as Natalie’s boyfriend. Jared Walker is directing.

Leone is concerned that the subject matter may put people off.  There is a lot of humor in it,” she said. “It sounds so depressing, but I was surprised, when I saw a production recently, how much humor there is.”

Leone is friends with fellow actor J. Robert Spencer, who was Tony nominated for originating the role of the father on Broadway. She is excited that the cast will be doing a Skype session about the roles and the original production.

Ultimately, she is pleased to have the opportunity to flex some acting muscles.  “I’m scared, but excited about doing a role that has gravity and addresses real-world issues. It’s not your typical fluffy musical fare.”

“Next to Normal” at the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, on April 12-13 at 8 p.m. and on April 13-14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $18 for students. Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or order online at www.lyrictheatre.

Following the 2 p.m. matinee performances, there will be a talk-back session with the cast and a mental health professional.