“Next To Normal” opens at the Victoria Theatre

Rock musical running through May 19 takes theater-goers on an emotional ride.

An emotionally drained audience left the Victoria Theatre Tuesday night following the local premiere of the Tony-Award winning musical, “Next to Normal.”

The show, on stage through May 19, isn’t your typical Broadway musical, and there were those who emerged visibly shaken and wiping away tears.

Many arrived not certain what was in store. Chatting over dinner before the play at Uno Chicago Grill, Jackie Ewing and three friends said they weren’t sure exactly what they were coming to see.

“I only know that it’s a rock musical and that it’s about bipolar illness,” said Ewing, who is from Centerville. All of the women said they were “curious.”

Heralded for bringing the often-suppressed subject of mental illness to the stage, the show has earned 11 Tony Award nominations and won for Best Score and Best Orchestration. It also earned the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has been produced around the world. In the New York production, West Carrollton’s Alice Ripley earned the 2009 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award nominations.

In Dayton, the show is being presented by The Human Race Theatre Company as part of the Premier Health Broadway series.

The opening night curtain speech — typically light-hearted banter between Premier Health’s director of public affairs Julie Liss-Katz and the Victoria Theatre Association’s CEO Ken Neufeld — took a more serious turn when Liss-Katz told the audience about services her hospitals could provide for those needing help for mental illness.

$10 seat deal

Rose Reed of Xenia said she’d heard from a co-worker about the $10 Cheap Seats online program being offered and decided to sign on.

“You sit in the nosebleed section, but my niece loves theater, and this way I could bring her,” explained Reed, who is planning to bring her son to see “Dreamgirls” for the $10 rate as well.”It’s a great way to expose young people to theater without spending tons of money.”

Reed’s niece, Anna Maloney, said she’d just finished playing Erma in Xenia High School’s production of “Anything Goes” and her theater directer had told her “Back to Normal” was “really good theater.”

Mother-daughter rave

Both Ellen Geiselman and her mom, who are from Oakwood, raved about Tuesday night’s production.

Seventeen-year-old Ellen, a Muse Machine member who said she loves musical theater, labeled the music “fantastic” and the talent “amazing.”

“It’s great!” she said at intermission. “I’ve been crying the whole night.”

Kate Geiselman said she’d been told by a couple of people that the show was dark and depressing.

“It may be hard for some people to watch, but it has enough of a comic element to keep it from getting overwhelming,” she said. “I found the ending hopeful. The play was cathartic, and that’s what tragedy does. It’s also weirdly educational — it’s great that they’ve stripped away all the stigma.”

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