As its title belies, “Next to Normal” is not the typical “feel good” Broadway musical, but audiences always manage to connect with the dark story, explained Daimien Matherson, the transgender director of a new production opening this weekend at Infinite Abyss Productions in Wilton Manors.
“I think it’s a reflection of the idea that so many families feel they have to be perfect. That white picket fence mentality still exists,” he said. “The show challenges that idea by saying it’s oka
y to be a mess sometimes. It’s okay to sometimes just get by. Things will be okay.”
The 2008 rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, tells the story of a suburban mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and reveals the effects that her illness and its management have had on her family. Other uplifting subject matter includes drug abuse, suicide and grief and ethics in modern psychiatry.
“I feel it connects with audiences because even though the subject matter of mental illness or losing a child may not specifically be something everyone can relate to, the experience of loss, coping, and coming to terms with things not having to be perfect to be okay is something everyone experiences,” Matherson said. “The show also makes you (become) so invested in every character on stage. It truly is an ensemble piece. And there is someone on that stage that everyone can say, ‘I see myself in them.’ It doesn’t hurt that the music is amazing!”
The biggest challenge for Matherson is producing a Broadway musical—even a relatively small ensemble piece—in the intimate space of the new Infinite Abyss Foundry space on Dixie Highway.
He elaborated, “It has presented its challenges, sound especially. I think working out these kinks now will allow for even more types of performances that can be done in this space. You’re only limited if you give up on creativity. I’ve learned that some things may be unconventional, but they work.”
Matherson was quick to credit his cast, noting that Sabrina Lynn Gore, who portrays the mother, Diana, “finds a healthy mix of the humor in the role but still can break your heart with just the look in her eyes,” and Christopher Alvarez as the spirit of a dead infant son creates “a character that is relatable with his own arc.”
As director and founder of Measure for Measure Theatre, Matherson said, “The biggest challenge is finding the balance, guiding the cast in telling the story without creating the stereotypes behind the characters.”
He’s still glad he accepted the challenge.
Matherson said, “(This) is a show that has always been on my bucket list to direct. Its score is incredible, the story will break your heart, and it’s a show that people will continue to talk about long after they have left the theater. So, I figured…why not take this one on? Go big or go home!”
Infinite Abyss Productions and Measure for Measure Theatre present “Next to Normal” by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, May 10 – June 3 at the Abyss Stage (also home to Island City Stage), 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $39.50 at Infinite-Abyss.org.