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Prize-Winning Musical Packs Emotional Punch

ROYAL OAK – Set to a thrilling pop-rock score, Pulitzer Prize-winning "Next to Normal" offers an intimate portrait of a family dealing with bipolar disorder that is at once devastating, honest, heartbreaking – and unexpectedly humorous. The musical runs April 17 through May 3 on the 2nd Stage at the Baldwin Theatre, 415 S. Lafayette, in downtown Royal Oak.
According to director Stephanie Samuel-Lucas of Windsor, "Next to Normal" expertly fuses challenging subject matter with moments of levity. While the show deals with the difficult condition of mental illness and its effects, it has a texture that makes it interesting.
"It is so raw, and the audience feels that," she says. "However, there are many moments that you find yourself chuckling. Brian Yorkey, who wrote the book and lyrics for this show, uses such craftsmanship in breaking tensions. The subject matters are all things that 'normal' people don't address. There is no passive-aggressive behavior here."
Diana (Sandria Haney of Southfield), ostensibly an everyday suburban wife and mother, is actually on an emotional roller-coaster ride as she battles the effects of her bipolar disorder, a condition that pulls sufferers between moments of depression and mania. Meanwhile, her embattled teenage daughter, Natalie (Allison Megroet of Berkley), frustrated from years of her mother's episodes and living in the shadow of her brother, Gabe (Bill Brunner of Royal Oak), finds comfort in a budding relationship with a classmate, Henry (Jeff LaMothe of Oak Park). With her patient and stalwart husband, Dan (Matt Scharlau of Bloomfield Hills), at her side, Diana enters a labyrinth of treatments at the hands of her "rock star" psychiatrist, Dr. Madden (Michael Adams of Eastpointe). Ultimately Diana's journey leads back to the one painful moment that altered her life forever.
With such a small, intimate show, the cast is critically important. "When you have a cast this small in numbers, there is no room for error – every bit has to be perfect," says Samuel-Lucas. "When we heard each of the six actors at auditions, we knew we had a great cast. I am proud to say they are hitting it night after night – even just in rehearsal. I get goose bumps just thinking about what each one brings to their character," she says.
Samuel-Lucas believes in 2015 many people feel more comfortable facing taboo topics. "It would be cool to know the audience leaves the theater thinking about the issues. I know people will be moved – if they let themselves be vulnerable to it. With this cast, it's inevitable," she says.
"Next to Normal," book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, opened April 15, 2009 at Broadway's Booth Theatre and ran for more than 700 performances before closing Jan. 16, 2011. It won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and received eleven 2009 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical and won three for Score, Actress and Orchestrations.
The final dress rehearsal, Wednesday, April 15, is open to the public as a "pay what you can" (PWYC) night. The admission price is at the discretion of the patron. There are no advance sales and doors open at 7 p.m. and close at 8 p.m. (no late seating). Patrons are encouraged to pay cash; credit/debit cards require a $5 minimum. This is a general seating event and first come, first served with no refunds/exchanges. PWYC night is made possible by the generous support of Vibe Credit Union.
The show runs approximately two hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission. "Next to Normal" is rated PG-13.
Advance tickets for performances are $18. Tickets may be purchased online at www.stagecrafters.org (online handling fees apply) or by phone at 248-541-6430 using Visa or MasterCard. All seats are reserved. If shows have not sold out, tickets can be purchased at the box office one hour prior to the performance for an additional $2 per ticket. Students are encouraged to attend Half-Price Student Night on April 23. RUSH tickets may be available for at-the-door purchase for Friday performances. "Next to Normal" is sponsored by Vibe Credit Union.

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