Tag Archives: Booth Theatre

Feeling next to normal

Alice Ripley (L), Aaron Tveit (center) and J. Robert Spencer in "Next to Normal" at the Booth Theatre (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Some musicals mirror our lives. Others manage to change them. For our family, “Next to Normal” did both. So news that it’ll open Arizona Theatre Company’s 2012/13 season hits home. Our son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during middle school, and the road from first symptoms to stability was a rocky one.

For many years, the everyday experiences of living with mental illness took a toll on every member of our family, including Christopher’s two younger sisters. For Lizabeth, who’s long been interested in stage and screen, the musical “Next to Normal” felt an anthem of sorts in ways that only she can fully explain.

“Next to Normal” imagines the life of a suburban family fraught with depression and denial. Parents Diana and Tom battle their own demons, and each other, long after the death of son Gabe. Other characters include daughter Natalie, a friend of hers named Henry and Doctor Madden.

It features music by Tom Kitt, and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey — and is being directed for ATC by the company’s artistic director, David Ira Goldstein. The Broadway production won a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama and three Tony Awards, including one for best musical score.

"Next to Normal" on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Lizabeth saw the musical during its Broadway run at the Booth Theatre, and we traveled together last January to see the touring production featuring Alice Ripley (who originated the role of Diana on Broadway) at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. I’m hoping she’ll be on fall break during Arizona Theatre Company’s Oct. 11-28 run in Phoenix.

If not, we’ll continue our tradition of exchanging show stories. I’ve enjoyed hearing her accounts of everything from “Seminar” to “Porgy and Bess.” Some shows, like “Godspell” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” she’s seen more than once. Others, like “The Book of Mormon,” are tough to take in on a college student’s budget.

If Lizabeth gets to “Freud’s Last Session” at New World Stages in NYC, we’ll be able to compare notes on imagined conversations between Sigmund Freud and C.S Lewis – because Arizona Theatre Company is co-producing the Southwest premiere of this work with San Jose Rep as well. A Feb. 14-March 3 Phoenix run means those of you with a warped sense of humor have Valentine’s Day planning in the bag.

The 2012/13 season for Arizona Theatre Company also includes “Lombardi” (a play about Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi), “Emma” (a musical based on Jane Austen’s novel), “The Sunshine Boys” (a Neil Simon play about comedians reuniting to rehash their old schtick) and “Clybourne Park” (a play exploring race and real estate in America, which received the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in drama).

Theater has long been a normalizing force amidst circumstances sometimes isolating and unpredictable. Works like “Next to Normal” remind families living with mental illness, or grief following the loss of a child, that they’re not alone. I’m not sure whether seeing “Next to Normal” again will feel more like applying a bandage or ripping one off. Both are necessary for healing.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Theatre Company’s current season and here to explore their 2012/13 offerings (show are performed at both Tucson and Phoenix venues)

Coming up: Dust in the wind

Update: “Clybourne Park,” which my hubby James saw during his last trip to NYC, has been nominted for several 2012 Tony Awards — including best play. Click here for a full list of this year’s Tony Award nominees. 5/1/12

Musings on “mature content” musicals

I finally broke down and watched the movie “Shutter Island” with my 17-year-old daughter recently after someone who’d seen it mentioned how much she’d probably enjoy it.

I’m one of those quaint parents who’s not a big fan of the under-17 set seeing movies with an R-rating, although Lizabeth saw plenty of “mature content” musicals before turning 17.

Folks who watch “Glee” will recognize the actress in this poster from “Spring Awakening” on Broadway (Photo: Joan Marcus)

She’s seeing “Spring Awakening” for the second time this week when it returns for two nights only to ASU Gammage.

Last time it toured in Tempe, we surprised her with tickets for on-stage seating — since rows of audience members sit stage left and stage right for the entire production.

This time around we’ll enjoy it together from seats in the house — and it’ll be our second “mature content” musical for the week.

About the time this gets posted, we’ll be seeing “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego.

Lizabeth first saw “Next to Normal” at the Booth Theatre during a high school trip to NYC and DC last year, but Alice Ripley didn’t perform the night Lizabeth attended.

We’re thrilled to be seeing Ripley perform in the touring production — and will offer more musings on our return.

People often ask me what theater material is and isn’t appropriate for certain ages. My answer to this mirrors my take on most parenting issues. It depends on the child.

Families have different values. Children have different sensitivities. And everyone has a different take on art.

When I spoke a while back with Paris Bradstreet, a member of the touring cast for “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage, she noted that primetime television offers far more violence and sexual content than the plays and musicals folks fear as too racy.

Touring cast of “Spring Awakening” (Photo: Andy Snow)

Since we spoke, MTV has started airing a weekly series called “Skins” — billed as “a journey throughout the lives of nine high school friends stumbling through teenage adolescence.”

Think partying with drugs and alcohol, trading sexual favors, popping pills, reading porn and more.

Pay attention when theater offerings have content advisories, but do more digging.

Sometimes the things parents fear, like the brief and barely lit nude scene in “Hair,” are far more tasteful than what your kids are seeing on television or in movie theaters.

Bradstreet observes that “mature content” fare often sails right over the heads of younger children.

If your tween or teen is old enough to know when a character is simulating sexual activity (with self or others), it’s unlikely the thought of sex has yet to cross his or her mind.

And as the mom of a teen who has seen everything from “Rent” to “Avenue Q,” I can assure you that no Broadway show has ever inspired her to run right home and start swearing up a storm or sneaking out at night for some sinister purpose.

Touring cast of “Spring Awakening” (Photo: Andy Snow)

If anything, it’s taken the glamour away from activities that would otherwise derive power from their mystery.

Who wants to raid a liquor cabinet after watching the mother in “August: Osage County” drink herself into oblivion? Who wants to shoot heroine after seeing a drug user in “Rent” contract AIDS?

I hadn’t realized, when we rented the movie “Shutter Island,” that it involved a mother killing her children. I only recall the slick little DVD case warning against language, cigarette use and nudity.

Apparently it’s the smoking killers who most offend. But all is well if they’re fully clothed.

I wasn’t entirely sure after watching “Shutter Island” that I’d made the right call.

But I am sure that much of what our tweens and teens experience via television, video games and the Internet is far more rude and crude than anything I’ve ever seen in a work of musical theater.

– Lynn

Note: One of the best ways to gauge the age-appropriateness of content is to view something for yourself before deciding whether it’s okay for your child or teen. If you check with friends, ask enough of them to get a good sampling of opinions — which will give you more insight than a single thumbs up or thumbs down.

Coming up: Good clean fun with children’s theater, All things “Alice,” Spotlight on Sedona

Update: ASU Gammage has just announced special pricing for certain tickets to “Spring Awakening.” Use the code “SPRING” when ordering tickets in price levels 1-3 (excludes balcony seating; additional fees apply). Offer not valid on previously purchased tickets or in conjunction with any other offers. Tickets available from ASU Gammage and Ticketmaster.