Previews: NEXT TO NORMAL at TampaRep

The play on bipolar disorder is May 31 - June 6.

By: May. 22, 2024
Previews: NEXT TO NORMAL at TampaRep
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Previews: NEXT TO NORMAL at TampaRep

On stage at USF Theatre Centre on May 31-June 16 is TampaRep's emotionally charged rock musical "Next to Normal." Part of a broader initiative titled "Raise the Curtain on Mental Health Awareness," directed by Emilia Sargent with music direction by Juan Rodriguez, this production is not just a performance but an exploration of the highs and lows of a suburban family grappling with mental illness.

Having garnered critical acclaim, including the 2009 Tony Award for Best Original Score and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for its raw and insightful portrayal of a family's struggle with bipolar disorder and its impact on each member, the musical's electrifying rock score and heart-wrenching lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey create an emotional roller-coaster that mirrors the turbulent journey of the characters.

The story centers around Diana Goodman, played by the talented Alexis Carra, returning to the musical stage after a decade.

"This is my bucket list – humongous role," Carra explains.

Diana's battle with bipolar disorder and the effects of her illness on her husband Dan, portrayed by Jim Sorensen, and their daughter Natalie, played by Mariela Zeno, bring to light the complexities of mental health and the challenges it poses to familial relationships. The cast also includes Nicholas Perez-Hoop as Dr. Madden, Ben Sutherland as Gabe, and Max Dalton as Henry, all contributing to the powerful storyline.

Previews: NEXT TO NORMAL at TampaRep Carra watched snippets of previous performances by fellow actors to prepare for this emotionally challenging role. She drew on a personal history with depression, researched and read the book, 'An Unquiet Mind' that Alice Ripley read when she tackled the role, and used her experience with family bipolar two disorder as a reference. Her mother, a psychologist, served as a sounding board, while TampaRep's behavioral consultant was also a source of information about mania and depression.

Carra explains, "I looked to the script and listened to what the characters were saying. The show is so well written, and a lot of what you need is in the words. I'm discovering who Diana is coming out of me, bringing myself to the role now that I've done all the research, learning the lines and the music, now I'm in the element of what when the player plays."

To tap into the mania of her Diana, Carra imagines the sleep deprivation of staying up seven straight nights described in the opening lyrics of the play.

"Once I'm in that. I got on the train, and the train is off, then I'm on this roller coaster ride."

She is careful not to play Diana as a victim or a villain.

"She is only loving and being the best mother she can be in that moment, which looks to an emotionally stable person as not such a great mother. Ultimately, even though she makes some choices that don't seem that way, I believe she wants to get better. She is trying to do the best for her family and herself, especially given her relationship with her daughter at the beginning of the piece."

At the end of the play, Carra feels that there is hope that she and her daughter can reconnect. "A whole, connected, authentic relationship," she says.

She believes the play will shock people who don't already know the story.

 "I think any time you see this story, it sends shivers up and down your spine because it is opening a slice of life that is really messy and uncomfortable to watch, but it's a part of life. I think it will make people okay to be comfortable with those feelings of discomfort so we can lean in and then talk about and share, for people not to judge it, but to leave space for it.”

TampaRep's "Next to Normal" production is more than just a show; the theatre company has partnered with local organizations to connect audiences with resources and support, aiming to destigmatize conversations around mental health.

“I want people to process aloud, 'Wow, what a story,' and ask what their takeaway was. Each person will have different moments that will hit them based on the lenses of their lives. I think it will affect everyone in a unique way based on their life experiences. We hear what we need to hear when we need to hear it. There's something that will challenge and uplift you and give you ideas about where to go,” Carra says. “I hope the last number, ‘Light,’ will create these conversations and allow people to sit with these uncomfortable feelings, knowing there can be hope. I want people to leave the theatre feeling, 'Wow, I just got hit by a truck, but I feel that light.'

"Next to Normal" will run from May 31 to June 16, 2024, with performances scheduled for Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday matinees. A special preview performance is set for May 30, inviting audiences to glimpse this powerful story early. Learn more and get tickets at


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