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Suburbia On Stage: 'Next to Normal' Opens at the Emerson Umbrella

A rock musical with a small cast, this slice of suburban struggle promises the audience a chance for introspection.

Less than a week after wrapping the Rocky Horror Show, a very different production is set to open at the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts: Next to Normal.

A Tony and Pulitzer-award winning musical that hit Broadway in 2009, Next to Normal features a small cast and tells the story of a suburban family struggling with a mother’s bipolar disorder. It is, in many ways, a polar opposite to Rocky Horror, but Director Brian Boruta hopes the audience will feel the same level of connection – albeit without the squirt guns, flashlights and other props that accompanied Rocky.

“They’re definitely going to be in for an experience,” Boruta said, adding that instant connections to the story and characters produced a few tears during the cast’s first rehearsal. “Regardless of what they’re bringing in, they can expect, whether for better or for worse, to examine their own relationships when they get into their seats.”

Rehearsal of Next to Normal actually began about a week earlier than Rocky, and a couple of local actors are appearing in both. So it’s been a pretty hectic few months for Boruta, who acted in and directed Rocky and started his new gig as the Umbrella’s director of performing arts in September.

Scheduling was the most difficult part of the back-to-back productions, according to Boruta, who said they designed one show to build off of another in terms of set design. For Next to Normal, the set design and story combine to create an experience that’s unexpectedly intimate for a rock musical – even one with only six cast members.

“It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and by the end of it, you’ll feel a lot lighter,” said Boruta. “The performers are so fearless and unafraid to give themselves over to their chargers and each other, that’s really going to translate to the audience.”

The Next to Normal cast includes a number of local actors and even a few familiar faces, Boruta said.

Maria Wardwell will play Diana, the mother, and Randy Elkinson is Dan, the father. Joe Mullin plays Gabe, their son, and Jackie Theoharis is Natalie, their daughter. Allen Yannone portrays Henry, Natalie's boyriend, and Jonathan Barron is Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden.

And a connection to the audience is something Boruta hopes to be a part of all the productions he’s a part of at Emerson Umbrella.

“For me, when I approach a production, it’s as much about the process as the product,” he said, noting with Next to Normal he was “really interested in exploring relationships the cast and crew would develop.”

Next to Normal opens at 8 p.m. tonight, at the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts. Subsequent performances are at 8 p.m. on Nov. 10, 16, 17, 23 and 25, with 3 p.m. performances on Nov. 18 and 24. To purchase tickets, click here.

Next up will be Jesus Christ Superstar, scheduled to open Easter weekend in spring 2013.

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