There is a buzz going on nearby in McLean. Forget new transportation woes or political shenanigans. The hubbub is over an award-winning musical which is in production at a local community center.
The prize-winning musical Next to Normal has opened to critical acclaim and solid box office at the Alden Theatre. Produced by the McLean Community Players, performances wrap up next weekend and the staff at the theater urge patrons to order their tickets now. Seating is limited and the kudos keep stacking up, including a five-star review from the DC Metro Theater Arts theatre blog and review site.
Musicals are bread and butter fare for theatres large and small including community organizations. Big cast, feel good shows fill the seasons of community theatres, and McLean Community Players is no exception. Legally Blonde: The Musical was a recent box office success for the theatre and Damn Yankees closes the 2012-2013 season.
But Next to Normal takes the subject of mental illness and couples it with a rock-edged score, focusing on just six characters and is not based on an existing novel, film or cartoon series. The original work of book and lyric writer Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt drew considerable buzz during its development. Washington's Arena Stage and other venues saw Next to Normal before it landed on Broadway. It earned a Tony Award for original lyrics and score, and was celebrated by Rolling Stone as "the best musical of the season."
Yorkey and Kitt's work is only the seventh musical to earn the coveted Pulitzer Prize for drama (2010), joining such titles as Sondheim and Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George (1985), A Chorus Line (1976), and Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (1950).
Next to Normal tells the story of a wife and mother struggling with bipolar disorder. Diana Goodman (Nicky McDonnell) struggles with her condition and the effect that it has on her family. Husband Dan (Brent Stone) works to keep the family together while their teenage children - played by Catharine Callahan and Nick DuPre - cope in their own ways.
The director of Next to Normal is Lisa Anne Bailey. An experienced performer (MCP's The Drowsy Chaperone, in the title role), Bailey has also been active in the Northern Virginia theatre community as a director and choreographer. Her work has been seen at theatres such as the Arlington Players, Reston Community Players, and Elden Street Players.
Broadway World-DC's Jeffrey Walker sat down with Lisa Anne to look more closely at the show.
Jeffrey Walker: Were you familiar with Next to Normal before taking on the show as a director?
LISA ANNE BAILEY: Yes, I had seen it when it was in production at Arena Stage, before it went to Broadway.
JW: What was your reaction to the show as an audience member at Arena Stage?
LB: That it was a very brave new musical and it was certainly something that I was interested in.
JW: How is it brave?
LB: Brave, first of all, in its subject matter. The fact that we're dealing with a bi-polar issue, which is not often put on the stage. And the fact that it's a 99 percent sung-through rock musical.
It's a highly emotion-packed story. As far as I'm concerned, the basic story is a love story - about family and challenge.
JW: When MCP offered you the chance to direct the show, how did you respond?
LB: I jumped on it. I was very excited by the challenge of it. My original thinking when I first saw it at Arena Stage was that when it became available to other theatres I would want to audition for it. But when they brought it to me to direct, I was intrigued by that challenge even more.
JW: Among your other directing experiences, how does this compare and how has it been different?
LB: This is the first rock opera-type show I've ever directed - that was kind of scary [chuckling]. And the fact that it's almost entirely sung-through, your dialogue and your singing are one. The singing has to become almost conversational. I couldn't block anything on the stage until the cast knew the music, since the music is their dialogue. We spent the first six weeks just learning music.