The last musical to win the Pulitzer — before 2016’s “Hamilton” phenomenon, that is — will now be the first full musical production staged by Bainbridge Island’s Lesser Known Players.
“Next to Normal,” opening Friday, Jan. 24 at Rolling Bay Hall, is ironically perhaps itself lesser known than such an award-magnet should be.
Even before its Off-Broadway debut, the musical won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Score and received Drama Desk Awards nominations for Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Score. Later, it opened on Broadway (in 2009) and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards (winning three) and also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming only the eighth musical in history to receive the honor.
Unsurprisingly, it was named one of the year’s 10 best shows by critics around the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.
But “Net to Normal,” with book and lyrics by Issaquah’s Brian Yorkey, is not primarily an exercise in spectacle, like so many musicals. The story itself is decidedly light on fluff — and couldn’t be more timely.
The show centers on Diana, a suburban wife and mother (played by Sarah Taylor in the LKP production) who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her husband (Adam Somers) and children (Henry Beddoe and Cordelia Janow).
The musical addresses topics of grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry — and yet somehow, according to the director, it’s not a downer.
“It’s not dark because everyone’s trying to better themselves and come out of what they’re dealign with,” said Steven Fogell.
“It’s one of those shows that just hits you between the eyes the second it starts. It’s very real, and you know how in musicals you kind of fall into these fantasy worlds? It’s brutally honest, I can say, because it’s about a family going through a lot of dysfunctions, but I wouldn’t call it a dark show,” Fogell said.
Rounding out of the six-person cast of the LKP production are Adam Somers, Meredyth Yund, and Kooper Campbell.
At least half the cast was aware of the show before learning of tryouts, the director said, and all of them auditioned with numbers from the show itself, so he could be sure they’d be up for performing the challenging material.
Fogell himself first saw the show in Seattle during the Broadway cast tour, and said he instantly knew he wanted to mount his own production someday.
“I understand why the show doesn’t get done a lot,” he said. “Because it’s a lot of wear and tear on the actors going through it. We actually have a therapist for our cast and she comes and works with them once a week. They have access to talk to her. And everybody kind of, not rolled their eyes, but at first were like, ‘Yeah, OK. Are we going to need that?’ And after working with the material, they were all just like, ‘Thank you!’
“She just gives them tools [about] how to let these characters go at the end of the day.”
Beddoe, 17, who plays the family’s oldest child, said working with the therapist had benefited his performance.
“It’s definitely very helpful,” he said. “The subject matter can get pretty heavy at times, and so it’s been nice … working on getting in and out of character.”
Taylor, the show’s lead, an island resident and teacher at Suquamish Elementary School, said she was a longtime fan of the show’s music, though she had not seen the whole thing before trying out for the part.
“I just fell deeply in love with the passion and realness of the story,” she said. “[My character] is very loving, but she’s very fractured and so you kind of come into the story where the family is just barely holding it together and then the story starts.
“I think that the topic of mental illness is so relevant right now,” Taylor added. “In my own family and in society and with students that I know and what they’re dealing with … it’s so relevant and it’s so timely, and it’s so important to start that conversation maybe in a different venue, where it’s not so confrontational.”
Though “Next to Normal” is recommended for those 13 and older, due to some adult content and language, both of the teenage thespians playing Taylor’s children said the material would certainly resonate with adolescents.
“I love music, I love the story,” said Cordelia, 16, who plays the younger child. “I think it’s such an important story and I think it’s something that a lot of people can relate to and that’s something that’s really cool about it. As an audience member, everyone can find a favorite character that they feel like they relate to and I think it probably changes depending on age and gender. And it’s interesting because I’m not in the same circumstances that [my character] is in, but I find myself relating to a lot of what she’s saying.”
Shows are Friday, Jan. 24 through Sunday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays (as well as a special extra matinee at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1).
Tickets for LKP’s “Next to Normal,” $24 each, are available now through www.brownpapertickets.com (event #4441252, or search “next to normal”).
Rolling Bay Hall is located at 10598 Valley Road NE.
Given the intimate nature of the stage space, the director said the production will be using a soundtrack provided by the supplier of show materials, something he at first was averse to trying.
“It literally is like a 20-piece orchestra,” Fogell said. “I wasn’t really sure about doing that, but then when I heard the tracks, they’re beautiful.”
It would have been impossible, he added, to do the show true justice in the space available any other way.
“It definitely has to have heavy guitar,” he said, “because there is that rock sound, but it also has these beautiful ballads that need violins and cello, and definitely a keyboard versus a grand piano; there’s just a lot of different elements.
“The musical deserves to sound like the way it’s supposed to sound.”
In the show, there is a source of connection for everyone, the director said, and it’s the rare narrative that offers neither hero nor villian, but just real people in real situations set to fabulous music.
“It will touch everybody’s life,” Fogell said. “There’s something in the show, you can’t escape it. It covers enough about all — the mom, the dad, a daughter, a son — and then how those ripples go out from there and how it affects their relationships moving forward.”