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“Next to Normal” plays next to UMaine at Keith Anderson Community House

Some Theatre Company opened their performance of the musical “Next to Normal” on November 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Keith Anderson Community House in Orono. “Next to Normal” is an original Broadway production produced by David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo and Second Stage Theatre. Tom Kitt was responsible for the composing the soundtrack, while Brian Yorkey takes credit for the musical’s books and lyrics. The local performance was directed by Elaine Bard.

Although this version of the three-time Tony Award and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner was done by Orono’s local community theatre, the performance was anything but small. The cast told the story of a family dealing with complexities involving mental illness and loss with such power that the audience was teary eyed and those who weren’t were still invested.

“I think it’s really, really good. I feel like it’s a very specific but accurate and raw representation of bipolar disorder…it’s showing a lot of themes,” Hannah Ruhlin, a University of Maine graduate, said.

Others were also impressed with the musical performance. “I’m from New Jersey so I’m close to Broadway. It’s great to see a community theatre put on something like this,” Brie Ragl, a second-year marine biology student at Unity College, said.

“Next to Normal” is a musical that does not deviate from the hard-to-discuss subject of mental illness, going into depth on the hard-to-talk-about symptoms. Although there were bits of humor sprinkled in this drama, no joke was made at the expense of the mentally ill.

“For mental health [to be performed right], we had a specialist come in. Christina, the one who played Diana, was just amazing,” Jason Wilkes, who played Dan Goodman in the musical, said. Wilkes is a University of Maine graduate with a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. He added, “I just love [performing]. It’s been a great experience.”

“Recently, my mother had gone through mental problems and that fed my performance a lot,” Shayne Bither, who played both Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden in the play, said. Bither discussed how his role took sometime to get into.

“Next to Normal,” while largely handling mental illness, is also a coming-of-age story in some respects, taking time to not only focus on Diana’s mental health issues, but also her daughter Natalie’s stresses and first love.

“I didn’t think this musical was going to be as important to me… it’s a hard-hitting musical with hard emotional content. I didn’t know how invested I could be [until I performed]. This was the best experience I’ve had in musical theatre so far,” Nichole Gabrielle Sparlin, who played Natalie, said. Sparlin is a fourth-year entertainment production student at Husson University’s New England School of Communications (NESCOM).

“I recently went through a break up with a longtime girlfriend and that was helpful when putting on this play. It’s great to have this opportunity and [have] all the raw emotions [onstage],” Logan Bard, who played Natalie’s love interest Henry, said. He is also a NESCOM student studying entertainment production.

Due to the nature of the play, with its hard topics and format, not everything fell into place easily for the director. “It was difficult because in a musical or play, there’s typically more dialogue. This one is mostly singing so it me awhile to figure out…I had to treat the lyrics as lines when blocking out the musical,” Elaine Bard said.

Although the musical had its challenges, it was expertly done and the cast encourages University of Maine students to attend. Tickets are on sale for $10 for UMaine students. Other performances will be on Nov. 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 12 and 13 at 2:30 p.m.

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