Obesity. Heart disease. Autism. Cancer. They’re often front and center in conversations about health and wellness. Though one in four Americans will experience mental health problems, struggles with depression and anxiety rarely take center stage. But Arizona Theatre Company, which opens it 2012-13 season with “Next to Normal,” may help change that.
“Next to Normal” is the tale of a family haunted by grief that’s complicated by a mother’s battle with bipolar illness. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010, and earned three Tony Awards—including one for best musical score. “Next to Normal” features book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt.
David Ira Goldstein, artistic director of Arizona Theatre Company, directs this Southwest premiere, a co-production with San Jose Repertory Theatre. I traveled with my daughter Lizabeth to see a touring production of “Next to Normal” featuring Alice Ripley at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego several years ago. It feels in many ways like the soundtrack of our lives.
Others living with mental illness in the family might feel differently about tackling tough topics like electroconvulsive therapy in the context of musical theater, but I’m grateful for the work’s role in fueling dialogue. It’s powerful theater for anyone who’s ever tried to balance the needs of a chronically ill family member with those of the well—or those who spent their childhood as caregivers.
Arizona Theatre Company performs “Next to Normal” Sept. 15-Oct. 6 in Tucson and Oct. 11-Oct. 28 in Phoenix. To learn more, visit arizonatheatre.org.