News Column

Opening the dialogue [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]

September 27, 2013


if you go Musical: "Next to Normal" Performers: Clarke University drama department students and alumni Times/dates: Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 3-6. Opening night will feature a panel discussion following the show. Site: Terence Donahoe Hall, Clarke University campus Cost: $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens, $7 for non-Clarke University students. Tickets will be available at the door 45 minutes prior to curtain. All seats are general admission. Rating: PG-13. Due to the subject matter, mature content and language, this performance is not recommended for young children. Synopsis A rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, "Next to Normal" centers around a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effect her illness has on her family. It also addresses issues such as grieving a loss, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and suburban life. Tidbits - "Next to Normal" was one of the first major productions to explore mental illness and society's increased use of psychiatric drugs. It debuted Off-Broadway in 2008, winning the Outer Critic's Circle Award for Outstanding Score and receiving Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Score. After its Off-Broadway run, the show played in Washington, D.C., before opening on Broadway in 2009. - The musical was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2009, winning three -- Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. - "Next to Normal" also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming the eighth musical in history to receive the honor. The Pulitzer Board called the show, "a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals." - A U.S. tour launched in 2010, and the Broadway production closed in 2011 after more than 750 performances. It has since spawned several international productions. - Clarke University's production was made possible by grants from the Iowa Arts Council, the Dubuque Racing Association and Alliant Energy.While the plot of Clarke University's production of "Next to Normal" might appear as somewhat of a downer, director Joe Klinebriel said he suspects audiences will be able to relate to its striking cast of characters and poignant message more than they believe.

"The musical is about a mother who is struggling with bipolar disorder and how it affects her family," Klinebriel explained. "There are so many layers to it."

Central to the plot is a singular event that shakes the family, fueling an already sobering situation and providing a surprising turn of events in the show.

"I have a prediction that people will be able to identify with the characters more than they think," Klinebriel said. "As they watch the show, people begin to realize that mental illness is not isolated. For this family and for many families, it's ongoing. I think if we can get people to identify with that in the piece - knowing these people and recognizing these characters - we'll be successful in helping open up the dialogue about mental illness and give a voice to those struggling with it as well."

Made possible by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council, Clarke is partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to present four performances of "Next to Normal" Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 3-6, with opening night's show followed by an audience discussion led by mental health professionals.

Grants from the Dubuque Racing Association, as well as Alliant Energy, also are supporting the show's efforts, enabling Clarke to raise the level of the production, Klinebriel said.

The show will include a potpourri of Clarke University students and recent graduates.

Alumna Rebecca Brosnan plays Diana, the struggling matriarch of the family, while fellow alum Luke Van Meveren portrays two doctors in the production. The cast is rounded out by students Austin Rea (playing Dan, the father), Traci Johnson (playing Natalie, the daughter), Adam O'Dell (playing Natalie's love interest) and Ben Graham (playing Gabe, the son).

A unique addition is a four-person chorus Klinebriel said helps intensify the show. It's made up of students William Schwalb, Reid Johannsen, Chelsea Stratton and Molly Plumley.

Klinebriel described it as heavily rock-influenced.

"I think that's very much intentional," he said. "There is such passion and energy in this show, and the emotion of these characters comes out in the music. I think one of the reasons this particular musical strikes audiences the way it does is the power behind this beautiful music."

And the cast, Klinebriel said, honors that potential.

"The cast is doing a great job," he said. "They're amazing. They're not only extremely talented, but they are able to produce a solid, strong sound and a beautiful mix. It makes me more and more excited about what we have to offer with this show."

"Next to Normal" is part of the 2013-14 Arts at Clarke focus on overcoming challenges. Additionally, Clarke's Mackin-Mailander Endowed Lectures will feature the founder of a national movement to de-stigmatize mental illness, a Paralympic athlete who is a recovering addict and a traveling visual art exhibit from The Awakenings Project, whose mission is to assist artists with psychiatric illness.

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