Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical takes an unflinching look at a modern family struggling with the effects of mental illness
Production coincides with Princeton’s Mental Health Week — February 19-23
The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Programs in Theater and Music Theater at Princeton University will present the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal on February 10, 16, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and February 11 at 2 p.m. in the Wallace Theater at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. The musical, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and an energetic pop/rock score by Tom Kitt, takes an unflinching look at a modern family struggling with the effects of mental illness. The production, directed by returning guest director Ethan Heard with music direction by Alex Ratner, features seniors Kat Giordano and Katie Frorer and is stage managed by senior Magda Stankowska. Audience talkbacks led by mental health experts will follow the February 11 and 19 performances.
Next to Normal tells the story of Diana Goodman and her family. Traumatized by the death of her infant son, Diana has lived with bipolar depressive disorder and delusional episodes for the past 17 years. The illness has affected everyone in her life, and has nearly torn her family apart on several occasions. The 30 original songs of the musical take the audience into the minds and hearts of each character, presenting the family’s story with love, sympathy, and heart, and how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their family’s world intact.
Next to Normal was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and received three for Best Original Score, Best Performance by Leading Actress in a Musical (Alice Ripley), and Best Orchestration. The musical also received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming the eighth musical in history to receive this honor. The show was named as “one of the year’s ten best shows” by critics around the country, including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. Frorer, Giordano, and Stankowska collaboratively proposed Next to Normal as their senior thesis project for the certificate in the Program in Theater, based on both a love of musical theater and this particular show, but also for how it relates to their individual areas of study at Princeton.
Frorer, who takes on the role of Diana, is majoring in neuroscience and is planning a career as a professional actress. The Hanover, New Hampshire, native has been performing since the age of five, appearing in more than 35 productions. She believes her voice is best suited to rock music and, after recently appearing as Judas in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, decided to look at a rock musical for her senior project. “Next to Normal is a beautiful piece of theater,” said Frorer, “and it presents both a great acting challenge and strong vocal challenge, while also diving into a subject matter that has been a large part of my studies at Princeton.” Frorer has made an effort to work with as many Princeton theater companies as possible, appearing over the past four years in productions with Theatre Intime, Princeton University Players, Princeton Shakespeare Company, Triangle Club, Grind Arts, and the Lewis Center. She looks forward to taking on new acting opportunities in New York City after graduation.
Giordano, who plays the role of Natalie, is from Morristown, New Jersey, and is majoring in psychology and pursuing certificates in musical theater, theater, and teacher preparation. She finds the musical simultaneously very relatable and very challenging. “As a Princeton student, I can begin to understand the conflict Natalie feels as she must attempt to balance her family, her studies, and her personal life,” said Giordano. “It’s the balancing act we all face but escalated. Putting a responsible depiction of these struggles on stage for our community is very important to me.” As a lifelong performer, Giordano notes her favorite past roles include Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Princeton Shakespeare Company and Jack’s Mother in last year’s Lewis Center production of Into the Woods. Giordano is also passionate about performing on campus and around the world with Triangle Club and the Princeton University Wildcats, an all-female a cappella group.
Stankowska is stage manager for the production. Originally from Poland and now living in Ewing, New Jersey, she is majoring in sociology. While in high school, she saw a production of Next to Normal at Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, and since then knew that she wanted to stage manage a production of the musical. “I saw this production years ago thanks to the cultural excursions organized by the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP),” said Stankowska. The Program is a rigorous, academic, and cultural enrichment program that supports high-achieving, low-income high school students from local districts through a multi-year, tuition-free program that prepares participants for admission to and ongoing success within selective colleges and universities. “Current PUPP scholars are scheduled to attend this production of Next to Normal. It’s a perfect ending to my journey with this show,” she added. Stankowska has been stage managing for seven years. Over the course of this time she has stage managed various Princeton student group productions and five Lewis Center productions including the first off-Broadway production of the musical Once in 2016 and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ original play Gurls which premiered at the Opening Festival of the Lewis Arts complex last October.
Ethan Heard directed the Lewis Center’s acclaimed production last spring of Into the Woods, has previously directed The Producers at the Lewis Center and Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea for Princeton’s Department of Music, and has co-taught “Acting and Directing in Musical Theater” with Broadway director John Rando in the Program in Theater.
“I am pleased to be directing this show at Princeton, which is different than the big production musicals I’ve done here before,” said Heard. “This show is much more intimate, and we have designed the seating in the theater with this in mind. We are focusing on the story, the characters, and the music in this production with less emphasis on production elements like sets and costumes. We don’t want to distract from the very difficult issues that Next to Normal offers us to explore.”
Heard directs plays, musicals, and opera, ranging from new work to Shakespeare and from Sondheim to Monteverdi. He is founding co-artistic director of Heartbeat Opera and Resident Director of Cantata Profana. He also teaches acting and directing at Yale School of Drama, Yale Institute of Sacred Music, and Princeton. His direction of musicals has included Little Shop of Horrors nominated for five Berkshire Theatre Awards including Outstanding Direction, Bells Are Ringing starring Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat, A Little Night Music starring Kate Baldwin, Gregg Edelman, and Phillipa Soo at Berkshire Theatre Group, the world premiere of Mark Campbell and Marisa Michelson’s The Other Room starring Phoebe Strole for Inner Voices, Sunday in the Park with George at Yale School of Drama, and Merrily We Roll Along at Yale Dramat, and he is currently developing Marisa Michelson’s Desire & Divinity Project and Megan Loughran and Alex Trow’s F Theory.
Next to Normal will be presented to overlap with Princeton’s annual Mental Health Week, February 19-23, an event that spotlights mental health issues and ensures all in the University community know about the many resources available to them in this area. The February 11 performance will be followed by an audience talkback led by Calvin Chin, Director of Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and the February 19 talkback will be led by Professor Sabine Kastner, Professor of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Chin and Kastner served as advisors on the production.
Next to Normal will be the first musical staged in the new Wallace Theater at the Lewis Arts complex, which opened last fall.
The cast of Princeton undergraduates, in addition to Frorer and Giordano, includes first-years Alex Deland and Asher Muldoon, junior Ben Diamond, and sophomore Allison Spann. Music director Alex Ratner will conduct the six-piece band. Junior Will Alvarado is lighting designer and supporting props and costuming; sophomore Jenny Kim is providing sound design, senior Michelle Goldman is assistant director; senior Rebecca Schnell is assistant stage manager, and senior William Atkinson is assistant music director.
Next to Normal contains mature language and themes and may not be appropriate for audiences younger than high school age.
Tickets for Next to Normal are $12 general admission in advance of show dates, $8 for students, and $17 general admission purchased the day of performances at the box office. Tickets are available through University Ticketing online at tickets.princeton.edu or by calling 609.258.9220, or in person at the Frist Campus Center or Lewis Arts complex ticket offices. Tickets will also be available at the door prior to performances.
To learn more about this event and the Programs in Theater and Music Theater visit http://arts.princeton.edu/academics/music-theater/