News Column

'Next to Normal' rides emotional highs, lows

October 18, 2013

YellowBrix

In its posted mission statement, five-year-old Slow Burn Theatre Company commits to producing "high quality, daring, contemporary and intelligent works of musical theater." So it was probably inevitable that this band of risk-takers would take on the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, "Next to Normal."

"All the principles that Slow Burn is built on are built into this show," says co-artistic director Patrick Fitzwater about the musical concerning a suburban family coping with the mother's severe bipolar disorder. He calls it a "feel everything" musical, meaning "you're going to feel every emotion during this show, maybe even at the same time. I don't think that a lot of musicals have the depth that this show has."

Although Fitzwater is emphasizing the ensemble strengths of "Next to Normal," he knew it would be a challenge to find a performer in South Florida with the acting and singing chops for Diana, the mentally unstable mom. But he attends a lot of theater in the area on a perpetual scouting trip and recalled being impressed by Sharyn Peoples in such shows as "Song of the Living Dead" (yup, a zombie musical), "The Wild Party" and "Chicago."

"How this all comes to me is I ride along and listen to the cast recording and one day Sharon just popped into my head," he says. "So I called her, told her I'd like to see her at the callbacks for 'Next to Normal,' she nailed it and now here she is."

Even before rehearsals began, Peoples understood the burden of the role. "I think that it's going to be exhausting, to go there to the darkness of Diana's world each night," she says. "I'm a very emotional person, so that won't be hard, but to go there emotionally and still be able to sing these songs, that is the challenge."

Both director and actress have personal insights on this show.

"What people don't know about me is I did have extreme anxiety issues," says Fitzwater. "I identify with Diana and what she's going through. When she reels off all the medications she's on, I can relate to how each one of them made me feel. I got over it, and learned to deal with it, but I think that's why I relate so much to this piece. It's not always about the medication, but that's the first thing that doctors push."

Peoples has observed up close bipolar disorder, from which her brother suffers. "I've been exposed to this, all of my life. Watching someone fall and disappear and all of this," she says. "The show is very accurate from what I know. The swings, the going off your medicine because you think you can do it yourself and then realizing that you can't. I have seen that firsthand."

Slow Burn has developed a following of theatergoers with a taste for the unconventional. In fact, "Next to Normal" has the best advance sales of any of the company's shows yet.

"This is not like any typical musical," Peoples emphasizes. "If you're not into musical theater, then this is exactly the one you should see."

Maltz goes Green ...

The dust has been flying at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre all summer and now it wants to show off what the construction was all about. Oct. 28, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Carbonell Award-winning company will have an open house, free to the public, to offer the first views of its new upstairs club level, dubbed The Green Room, after founding board member Roe Green, who footed much of the multimillion dollar bill.

Maltz's box office will be open that day to accommodate ticket purchases.

Theater is a gamble ...

Perhaps the only thing that is more of a gamble than running a theater is actual gambling. Cleverly, the Lake Worth Playhouse has combined the two with a fundraiser they are calling The Tropicana, on Nov. 2.

That night, the Playhouse will be transformed into Havana of the 1950s, for an extravaganza of gambling, dancing, drinking, light fare and cabaret-style entertainment.

All it will cost you is $40 per person, plus whatever you drop at the tables. Call 561-586-6410 for tickets.

IF YOU GO

'NEXT TO NORMAL'

Where: Slow Burn Theatre Company, West Boca Community High School, 12811 W. Glades Road, Boca Raton

When: Tonight through Nov. 2

Tickets: $40

Info: 866-811-4111

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