In the final throes of the first act of the hit Broadway musical “Next to Normal,” mother and wife Diana Goodman enters into therapy for her bipolar disorder, which ultimately leads to the difficult decision for her and her husband Dan on whether or not she should receive electroconvulsive therapy, also known as shock therapy.
The struggle is overlaid with multiple assurances sung to them by the psychiatrist, and the scene ends with Diana finally agreeing to take the step for the treatment and hopes for a recovery from her disorder.
This fraught drama of dealing with mental illness in a typical American family becomes the cornerstone of “Next to Normal” (sometimes stylized with the lower-case “next to normal”), which is the current Flagstaff Light Opera Company production.
It opened Friday and has a performance today at 5 p.m. And it picks up again Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Saturday as well. All performances are in the Coconino High School Mini-Auditorium. Learn more at www.thefloc.org.
The idea to bring “Next to Normal” to Flagstaff came from the director, Lorenzo Slavin, who pitched the Flagstaff Light Opera Company back in May to bring the provocative rock musical to the stage here. Similar to “Rent,” which FLOC also produced, “Next to Normal” carries a heavier rock edge and a more contemporary and topical approach to the musical than, say, “The Music Man” or a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.
“This isn’t really a light show,” Slavin noted, “Not in music, as a rock opera, and not in theme. It’s true that it is different than most things … But we want to bring the community together and get people talking about this issue. So, they took a chance on it. It’s different than their normal repertoire, but I’m glad they did it.”
The musical follows the story of Diana (played by Kathleen Leatherwood), who suffers from bipolar disorder, struggles to connect with her husband Dan (Joshua Martin) and family, and has to deal with the loss of one child and her growing distance from another (played by real-life brother and sister Brooklynn Rydman and Spencer Rydman). Matthew Myers plays the two doctors in the musical.
“Next to Normal” first opened in 2008 and it was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, won three and also earned the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of eight musicals to receive the honor.
“It’s a show that hits kind of close to home for me, but I don’t want to say too much about that,” Slavin said. “But really it’s about getting people aware of and talking about mental illness. It’s something that affects so many people and also something that people don’t like to talk about. So what we’re doing here is putting it in front of them with this great work.”
He added, “And after the show we’re going to have a discussion with the audience that’s optional, with a group called Terros Health (out of the Valley). They’re crisis intervention specialists who will talk to the audience after the show. And we have some cast members with experiences that they will share … although it’s optional, I think people will have to talk about this show after it’s over. So, this is a way we can debrief together and discuss what the play was about.”
For Slavin and the cast — which also includes a seven-member band and six cast members from sponsor Black Bart’s, “Next to Normal” has been a challenging show for the difficulty of the music and the complications that come with presenting the subject matter.
“I really, really, really wanted to get it right because I don’t want to be offensive to anyone,” he said. “I wanted it to be clear that this is one woman’s struggle with mental illness and not all struggles that people have align with Diana’s struggles. But I talked to health professionals and I talked to people with bipolar disorder for this show because I did want to get it right.”