L-R: Gabe (Ricardo Vázquez), Dan Goodman (Thomas Jones II) and Diana Goodman (Aditi Kapil).
Photo by Rich Ryan
Like last year's Avenue Q, Jack Reuler at Mixed Blood has had his eye on Next to Normal for several years. And like that play, he had to wait, as the show became an unexpected Broadway hit.
"In 2008, I got a manuscript for a play that would be on Second Stage [Theatre] in New York," Reuler says. The play went on to have another round of development at Arena Stage. "It went from a play about grief to a play about mental illness. I saw it at Arena, and immediately got in contact with the writers."
As this was happening, the economy tanked. This triggered closings up and down Broadway. With 15 empty theaters to fill, producers "were looking for shows that were ready to run," Reuler says.
All the while, Reuler kept his eye on the piece, waiting for it to become available. "It's a play I had hoped to do a few seasons ago," he says. "It's the definitive play for this ongoing effort to have good theater intersecting with disability issues and mental illness as a disability."
The mental-health aspect is important for Reuler, who has worked to expand Mixed Blood's mission in recent years to encompass disability communities. Good work in the area is vital. "We've been trying to gather all of the English language plays about disability or written by playwrights with disability. The amount of bad material is voluminous."
In developing his production, Reuler found that creators Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt did their homework for the musical, which centers on a woman, Diana, as she struggles with a bipolar disorder.
For casting, Reuler looked to strong actors who could sing. "This is a play that has music. It's about 90 to 95 percent music, but all of it really drives the narrative forward," he says.
"I knew from the beginning that I wanted to have people I could trust, so we could explore and make choices and move forward," Reuler says.
The cast features a host of Mixed Blood veterans, led by Aditi Kapil as Diana, Thomas Jones II as her husband Dan, and Regina Williams as psychiatrist Dr. Madden. Williams's role was originally written for a male actor, but the performer's voice allows her to "hit all the same notes as the men," Reuler says.
"There is a lot of very personal experience [with mental illness] in the cast. That was really important -- to get it right," Reuler says.
Next to Normal will also be part of the theater's second Center of the Margins festival, held later in October. Along with performances of the musical, Mixed Blood's stage will feature a full production of Ken LaZebnik's (author of last year's stunning On the Spectrum) Theory of Mind and a trio of staged readings.
The works look at different disabilities -- from spinal cord injuries to deaf culture to cerebral palsy -- and look at the issues in different ways.
Next to Normal
Mixed Blood Theatre
1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
Friday through November 11
Free, first-come, first served (online reservations: $20)
For information, call 612.338.6131 or visit online