Tag Archives: Lombardi

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


History, hip hop and “In the Heights”

I sometimes wonder what my 19-year-old daughter Jennifer might do when she grows up. She’s a history major at Arizona State University, and we’re immensely proud of her. 

But how often do folks get hired to do history? There’s plenty of pseudo-history floating around these days, but not enough of the real deal. 

"In the Heights" director Thomas Kail

Yesterday Lizabeth and I ran into a former history major in a lovely little courtyard behind ASU Gammage, where we’d just seen the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights.” 

He graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut after studying American history, but landed in a career that seems rather unexpected. 

He’s the award-winning Broadway director Thomas Kail

When I introduced myself as a writer with “Raising Arizona Kids” magazine, Kail did a full tilt rendition of a quote from the 1987 movie Raising Arizona.

It was something about not leaving a baby in the car, a sentiment well known to Arizona parents. (Pity some pet lovers have yet to catch on.)

But how did Kail get from history to theater? In a word: Storytelling.

Kail says it was the rich storytelling program that led him to Wesleyan University, where he first became involved with theater. 

He’s also a former athlete (think soccer) and describes theater as a “new team” he was really excited to be a part of. 

"In the Heights" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda

The rolls of Wesleyan alumni include several cast and creative team members who worked together on “In the Heights”–including director Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Miranda originated the musical and starred on Broadway in the leading role, which he’ll reprise during today’s matinee at ASU Gammage. (Yup, you should go, it’s amazing.) 

As we spoke with Kail, Miranda chatted with folks who’d waited near the stage door after the performance hoping to get cast autographs or photos. Lizabeth left with some interesting reflections. 

“He’s really good with kids,” she said. 

She’d seen Miranda interact with several young fans, including a girl eager to tell him about her dad’s recent haircut. Miranda slipped off his hat—similar to the one he wears onstage as “Usnavi”–so the little girl could see his haircut too. 

Just before, he’d performed in the Saturday matinee, staying after for a talk back with what looked like a couple hundred audience members (including some who’d driven in from out of state to see Miranda perform). 

One young woman stood to share that she’d been a fan of Miranda’s ever since he appeared in “The Pirates of Penzance” during high school. Another rose to say how delighted she was to see such a diverse audience at the show. 

Gift from an advocate in Saturday afternoon's audience

A gentleman in the audience noted that “In the Heights” has special significance for Arizona given recent immigration legislation, offering Miranda a button that read “Reasonably Suspicious.”

Many of the questions were quite astute, including one about possible parallels between Miranda’s “In the Heights” and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” I leave it to you to consider how Miranda might have answered this one. 

But first you’ll have to solve a more immediate problem—getting your hot little hands on the few remaining tickets for today’s 2pm show, your last opportunity to see Miranda and the “In the Heights” touring cast in Arizona. 

And one more, perhaps. How to sit politely through a show when you’d rather be dancing along… 


Note: To enjoy the ongoing adventures of Miranda, Kail and Blankenbuehler, stay tuned to their many projects–which include “Freestyle Love Supreme” (a hip hop improv group co-founded by Kail and Miranda), the new musical “Bring It On” (currently in development), the new play “Lombardi” (opening this fall) and the movie version of “In the Heights” (also under development). And keep your eye on the Tony Awards, where I suspect we’ll see these names time and time again…