Heritage Theatre Festival Ends Season with Pulitzer-Winning Musical ‘Next to Normal’

Heritage Theatre Festival, the professional summer theater at the University of Virginia, is ending its 2013 season on a serious note with “Next To Normal,” a thought-provoking musical about a woman trying to lead a normal life while struggling with bipolar disorder.

Featuring 30 folk-rock songs, “Next to Normal” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010, the eighth musical ever to do so.

“Next to Normal” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. July 25-27, 30 and 31 and Aug. 1-3 at U.Va.’s Culbreth Theatre. There will also be a 2 p.m. matinee on Aug. 3.

Heritage will host a talk-back session with the cast and mental health professionals from Region Ten following the Aug. 1 performance. Region Ten provides mental health, disability, crisis and substance abuse services for adults and children living in Charlottesville and surrounding counties. There is no additional charge for this event.

“Next To Normal” is an emotional whirlwind of a musical that explores how a woman named Diana faces her challenging mental health condition – and how her family deals with it in various ways. Grief, anger, love and hope are expressed wildly and unpredictably against the musical backdrop as Diana battles for her sanity.

The production contains strong language and is intended for mature audiences.

“‘Next to Normal’ is about a subject that affects millions of people in our world today that has rarely, if ever, been dealt with in musical theater, “said Robert Chapel, the show’s director and Heritage Theatre Festival’s producing artistic director. “I was inspired when I saw the show in New York, and then again when I read and listened to it a second time.

“I thought that the seriousness of the musical would provide a counterbalance to this season’s shows such as ‘Tuna Does Vegas’ and ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes.’

Tom Kitt wrote the music for “Next to Normal,” and Brian Yorkey penned the book and lyrics. In 2008, the musical debuted off Broadway, winning the Outer Critics’ Circle Award for outstanding score. The New York Times raved, “It’s more than a feel-good musical. It’s a feel-everything musical.”

After opening on Broadway in April 2009, “Next to Normal” won three Tony Awards, including best original score. The following year, it won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, cited because it had expanded the scope of subject matter for musicals.

Chapel said he is particularly excited about the cast he has assembled for the production, all of whom are from out of town.

Catherine Ogden, who plays Diana, has previously performed in Heritage’s productions of “Ragtime,“ “Damn Yankees” and “Oliver.”

From Yorkville, Ill., Ross Wheeler plays Diana’s husband, Dan, and Kyle Downing, from Houston, and Jonathan Coarsey, from Philadelphia, both performed in the Heritage’s 2013 season-opening production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”

“They all are impeccable musicians and have great instincts as actors, which makes my job much easier,” Chapel said. “Their individual talents have blended beautifully, and in just a short rehearsal period, the group has bonded deeply as a cast.

“The evolution of this production has turned out to be a great collaboration,” he said. “I think that people will find this to be not only a very thought-provoking evening, but also, in its own way, a very entertaining evening.”

Tickets are $40 ($35 for seniors and U.Va. faculty, staff and alumni, and $20 for students), and are available at the U.Va. Arts Box Office (located in the lobby of the U.Va. Department of Drama Building), online at www.uvahtf.org or by phone at 434-924-3376.

Free parking for all Heritage Theatre Festival performances is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, conveniently located alongside the theaters.

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John Kelly

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