Owens’ Spring Musical Tackles Mental Illness

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Actors stage a scene from "Next to Normal" with assistance from the production’s director. Pictured left-to-right: Sam Mason-Brown, Amber Breault-Albain, Jeremy Meier and Henry Newberg.

The Goodmans appear to be a typical American family. But behind the everyday routine and wisecracking teens, their lives are anything but normal.

The Owens Community College theatre and music programs will tell this story, which explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness, in its spring musical production, “Next to Normal”.

“This is an important production,” said Jeremy Meier, associate professor of theatre and production director. “We are honored to be the northwest Ohio premier of the full production.”

Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “Next to Normal” produces thought-provoking questions about illness, coping and survival. The production opens April 8 and will run six times, concluding April 17. All performances will be held in the Owens Center for Fine and Performing Arts Theatre on the Toledo-area Campus. The show is intended for mature audiences due to content and some adult language.

The production features on ensemble of Owens students, including Henry Newberg, Caleb Hall and Yusef Muhammad; alumni Amber Breault-Albain, Sam Mason-Brown and William Edmondson; and local actors Allyson Szymanski and Emma Koralewski. Szymanski attends Notre Dame Academy, while Koralewski attends Anthony Wayne High School.

This is the third musical collaboration between the Owens theatre and music programs. The first two, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”, were more light-hearted, but “Next to Normal” is not all serious.

“This is more of a musical drama than the first two productions,” Meier said. “But it does have some moments of light-heartedness.”

“Next to Normal” was selected for this spring’s production because it was appropriate for the talent pool, community and audience and was a good challenge, Meier said.

“This production gives us a good opportunity to do a show that had good content and challenging music,” he explained. “Because the play deals with raw emotions, it has an impact on the styling of the music as well.”

The 2 1/2-hour show is primarily driven by music, which would be considered contemporary.

Dozens of people are involved in the production, including Owens student Kenzie Shiflett, who will serve as assistant director.

“A good way to learn about the directing process is to experience it in a rehearsal setting,” Meier said, adding that in addition to acting in shows at Owens, Shiflett has an interest in the subject matter of this show. “She brings a lot of insight to this production.”

Other production members include Jo-Anne Chrysochoos, adjunct music faculty, and music direction by Jodi Jobuck, adjunct musical faculty, who provide vocal direction. Wesley Forney, adjunct music faculty, will serve as accompanist in rehearsal and production.

The production is stage managed by Owens student Geneva Simmons and alumna Diane Schroeder. Nichole Newman, adjunct faculty, will provide the costume design in collaboration with Bianca Marcia, adjunct faculty. Local artists Judson Lohman and Alex Gibson will provide the scenic and lighting designs for the production. Owens’ Rick Clever, CFPA technical director, will provide technical direction.

“Next to Normal” will show at 7:30 p.m. April 8, 9, 15 and 16 and 3 p.m. April 10 and 17. Tickets are $12 for general public and $8 for students, staff, faculty and alumni. For more information, please visit www.owens.edu/arts.

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