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‘Next to Normal’ presents challenge

The only normal thing about “Next to Normal” may be in its title. You may leave wondering whether to hum one of its songs or ponder its meaning.

“Next to Normal,” presented by the Clark State Theatre Arts Program, will open its run Nov. 1 at the Turner Studio Theatre.

This presentation is aimed at mature audiences and contains mature content and themes.

“We wanted to do something different; this is not your traditional musical,” said director James Straley.

Based on a Tony-winning 2009 Broadway show, “Next to Normal” is a rock musical exploring how a modern American family, supposedly living the American Dream on the surface, deals with bipolar disorder and possibly even deeper issues.

There are just six characters, and the action revolves entirely around the family’s home.

“It’s like a family everybody knows and the show is designed to open a conversation,” said Straley. “I’ve had more conversations about this than anything else I’ve been involved with. You will leave with something to talk about.”

Straley added it’s not all doom and gloom, as there are funny, laugh-out-loud moments at the right times.

There are also 38 original songs and a rock band on the stage instead of an orchestra pit or hidden behind the curtain, and it’s presented in a rock opera format.

All the actors are local and sing in their roles.

Straley said despite the strong subject matter, it’s something that needs to be addressed. Doing it through the arts not only does that, it shows the diversity of what theater offers.

“It’s not traditional, but I hope it will be embraced as more contemporary theater. This area has such a rich arts community. I love that Clark State is taking a chance on doing this one.”

Straley said if at the end of “Next to Normal,” rather than clapping you quietly leave or are lost in thought, he’ll consider it a compliment.

“Sometimes it’s OK not to applaud. That’s the way you know you’ve done a show like this right.”

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