News Column

Groundbreaking 'Normal' musical comes to Cape Rep

September 19, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 19--Director Kristin McLaughlin is checking off a big show on her "bucket list" of what she has wanted to direct, and she knows that the actors she's brought to Brewster to stage "Next to Normal" are, too. The 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, making its regional debut at Cape Rep Theatre, is simply one of those kind of shows.

"This is one of those pieces that really resonates so deeply with so many people," she says in a phone interview. "We all felt a desire to tell the story of the show. It's such a contemporary telling of the life of a family, the way it deals with loss and mental illness in such a contemporary, and such an approachable, way."

McLaughlin has run into uncertainty from people, even friends, about wanting to see a musical that explores how the main character's bipolar disorder affects those she loves. But beyond praising the "incredible score" by Tom Kitt and Bryan Yorkey, McLaughlin tells those people "that once they get into it, they will absolutely relate to it and it's really not what they might have thought it was." The songs may explore the personal and medical ramifications of a mental illness, but there's also comedy, surprises, exciting rock music and fast-moving, almost film-like staging aided by Ryan McGettigan's abstract set.

"This show pushed the musical into a contemporary land, a new genre that we'd never seen before," she says. "This was really groundbreaking and it was just a few years ago and it really changed everything. It's where musical theater has evolved to."

And, McLaughlin notes, a perhaps surprising number of people know someone, or have somehow been affected by someone, with the kind of mental illness depicted -- including several people associated with the show. Besides a copious amount of research done to prepare to tell this story, she and the actors have used discussions about their personal connections to inform the characterizations.

"I think it's so interesting that this is almost like this private disease people just don't talk about," she says. "This could be what's going on in the life of people who live next door to you or someone in your family."

Most of the dialogue in "Next to Normal" is sung, and McLaughlin says that required only a slightly different type of collaboration with Storr than on other musicals. As a director, "whether an actor is singing or speaking, it's the same approach -- it's all about creating these characters," she says. But "the music is so telling," with clues to the characters written into a melody or how a note is supposed to be sung.

This is the third musical McLaughlin has directed at Cape Rep with Storr, following "Avenue Q" and "Spamalot." She's also worked regionally and in New York and first saw "Next to Normal" on Broadway while working as assistant director on "Lend Me a Tenor" playing across the street.

She is excited about the actors in her show; beyond Cape Rep company members Chelsey Ristaino and Marty Brent, the four others -- Nikki Van Cassele, Matt Ferrell, Matthew Corr and Christopher Sheehan -- are new to Cape Rep. "It's an absolutely spectacular cast, just unbelievable," McLaughlin says. "I've worked on Broadway and truly this is one of the best casts I've ever worked with."

For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

Visit the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.) at www.capecodonline.com

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