DANVILLE — “Next to Normal” not only entertains the audience with its rock-musical format, but also educates people about the serious issue of mental illness.
“It’s not your traditional happy, upbeat musical,” director Jeanne Dunn said. “But it is incredibly powerful theater. It’s life changing in many ways for some people.”
DLO Musical Theatre and Full-Fill Industries will present the Pulitzer Prize winning musical on April 26, 27 and 28 at the Village Mall.
Evening performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and a matinee will be at 2 p.m. Sunday. The performance space is in the south wing of the mall, down the hall from the AMC Theatres entrance.
The play portrays the “normal” Goodman family, as they deal with the effects of a member with bipolar disorder. It takes audiences into the minds and hearts of each character, presenting their family’s story with love, sympathy and heart.
Because of the subject matter and strong language, “Next to Normal” is recommended for mature audiences.
The cast includes stage veterans Noah Acree, David French, Bryan Goode, Bryan Jenkins, Mackenzie Kizer and Jodi Prosser-Muller. The show is directed by Jeanne Dunn, David Zych is vocal director with Kevin Latoz as music director, and features an orchestra.
“You see the overall picture of how this one person’s illness affects everyone’s life,” said Kizer, who portrays the daughter of a mother with mental illness.
“It’s a conversation that needs to be had in this community. A lot of people can relate to some of the six characters.”
In fact, the show will involve education, as each audience member will receive a card urging him or her: “If you need help, reach out." The card will include information about a mental health awareness and addiction outreach event on May 7 in the Danville Area Community College Bremer Auditorium
Dunn said, “We’re doing more than putting on a show. The goal, hopefully, is to destigmatize mental illness. People who suffer should know it’s OK to reach out.”
The play has been a roller coaster for the cast.
While the topic is serious, Kizer said there’s some humor in it, too.
“There’s sad and happy — you get everything,” she said. “There are times when I’m crying one moment and then the next, I have to crack a joke.”
She added, “I fell in love with the characters, and I think the audience will, too.”
Kizer, a junior at Danville High School, is president of the Teen Theatre Co. of Danville, and plans to pursue her love of acting when she goes to college.
Dunn said she’s wanted to do this play for some time, and then Latoz reached out to her. The first time she saw it, she said, “It was a real gut punch for me.” She wondered if it would have the same emotional impact on others.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to have this material to work with,” she said. Also, “We couldn’t have asked for a better cast. They’re talented, strong and committed to this message.”
As a member of the Diversity Committee at DACC, Dunn talked to the group about putting on a mental health awareness event next month. Dunn is administrative assistant in the academic advisement department at DACC.
Everyone in the cast has had experience personally with family and friends who have struggled with mental health issues, she said.
Producer Lisa Osborne said of the show, “It’s going to be amazing. We’re passionate about how it deals with mental health, breaks down barriers and destigmatizes it. We’re getting the word out about mental health.”
• Tickets are $20 for adults and $7 for students. Tickets may be purchased online at dlomusicaltheatre.com, by phone at 431-1660, or at the Village Mall box office (east wing, next to Burlington) weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
• Danville Area Community College will present a mental health awareness event from 2-5 p.m. May 7 in the Bremer Center. The public is invited to learn more from organizations and to hear a panel discussion.