A good idea for weekend entertainment
Last Friday night, my wife and I attended the opening show of “Next to Normal,” the latest thought-provoking musical by Director Jim Tropp and the local Bower City Theatre Company.
You might recall the Muppet-like show “Avenue Q” that Bower City put on last March. It wasn’t meant for children, yet the sometimes-raunchy musical that was anything but politically correct got rave reviews from many who saw it.
Similarly, the language in “Next to Normal” might not be for everyone. The “f” word pops out from time to time. The subject matter also might be a little uncomfortable. But that’s the point. “Next to Normal” examines how mental illness can rewrite the lives of a family, and that’s the focus of this show.
Jenna Gresens portrays the mother in the family with realistic perfection. The role is very real for Gresens. As she told Gazette columnist Anna Marie Lux, she has suffered from depression and anxiety disorder in real life. Though her struggles are different from those she acts out in the show, she wanted to share her story to offer hope to those suffering as she once did.
“I’ve had to work very hard to learn how to manage depression, but I’m on the other side of it,” she told Lux. “Having a mental illness does not mean you are a failure.”
The show provides the audience with insight and greater understanding about mental illness.
In a letter The Gazette printed Saturday, Tropp explained why, after seeing this show on Broadway, he pushed to put on the show here when some thought he was foolish.
“I have directed more than 70 musicals, but never have I had the privilege of directing a musical like this,” Tropp wrote. “The journey to bring this show to JPAC has been unbelievable. I promise that if you allow yourself the chance to experience ‘Next to Normal,’ you will also experience a remarkable and unbelievable journey. I promise that you will be entertained with laughter and even a few tears. I promise that you will fall in love with the music as you experience a remarkable group of actors together on stage.”
My wife and I joined others giving the show a standing ovation Friday. We had one quibble—that at times the musical accompaniment made it difficult to hear the words the actors sang. Tropp told me by email this week that they’ll work to correct this concern.
The show continues at 7:30 p.m. this Friday and Saturday. For tickets, call the Janesville Performing Arts Center at (608) 758-0297 or click on janesvillepac.org.
While you’re at it, you might want to consider tickets to other JPAC events. JPAC’s annual fundraising gala, Sept. 29-30, features John Oates from the legendary music duo Hall & Oates. Another community group, Theatre Unlimited, is already promoting “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” which runs Oct. 4-7.
JPAC just unveiled a slick new promotional booklet detailing the center and the 13 local groups that use it. My wife and I have enjoyed dozens of JPAC events in recent years. “Next to Normal” is only the latest.