Next to Normal: Singing Through the Craziness

Mom is bipolar and as she gets worse, it gets tougher and tougher to be part of her family.

So what should we do? Sing about it, of course.

Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, nominated for 11 Tony awards and winner of three -- best score, orchestration and leading actress -- the rock musical Next to Normal arrives at Stages Repertory Theatre, telling what its director Melissa Anderson calls "a story about finding your humanness and trying to keep your connection to your family."

Anderson wanted to direct this show back when she was here to direct The Marvelous Wondrettes in the summer of 2010, "but the rights hadn't been released yet," she said.

Stages Managing and Producing Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin went to work on getting them, and called Anderson once he'd secured them.

"It's probably one of the best pieces of musical theater out there," Anderson says. "It is everything that I consider a great musical to be: great music, a beautiful score, a great book and subject matter. I think it tells an amazing, visceral, emotional journey."

The evening spent with the six actors that make up this play is not a total downer, Anderson promises.

"I would call it seriocomic. There's definitely humor. I think there always is in great tragedy," she says. "I think it examines what is normal today; what do we consider normal."

While five of the actors are from Houston, one joins Stages from New York City. Happy McPartlin (playing Diana) is coming straight to Stages from the first national tour of Memphis.

An added bonus is that the actors, backed by a nine-piece band, can really sing, Anderson says. "They are off the charts amazing singers and true actors. I'm absolutely thrilled with the cast. Their sound together is so exciting."

Next to Normal runs May 16 through June 24 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3210 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit the theater's Web site. Tickets are $21 to $40.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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