‘Next to Normal’ offers unfiltered portrayal of mental anguish

March 1, 2011

Something is not quite right about the Goodman family.

The bright and chipper matriarch, Diana, bounds to the breakfast table after a sleepless night to assemble enough sandwiches to supply a church picnic. Only, rather than the table, Diana uses the floor.

Alice Ripley (left) and Jeremy Kushnier perform in the celebrated musical ‘Next to Normal,’ a wrenching account of a woman’s struggle against mental illness. By Craig Schwartz

“Next to Normal” drops the pretense in the opening moments, as the Goodmans’ song about another ordinary day morphs into a call for help. Indeed, as patriarch Dan (Asa Somers) notes in the opening number, the family is “living on a latte and a prayer” amid the domestic tumult.

“Next to Normal” plumbs the mental illness afflicting Diana and unflinchingly details the corrosive effects the disease has on a suburban family. The subject matter sounds bleak and, no, the musical does not sugarcoat or recoil from the more unpleasant moments in the unending struggle against mental illness.

“Next to Normal” earned Tony Awards by the sackful and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Beneath the hardware is a musical unlike others in recent memory.

“Next to Normal” precursor “Feeling Electric” received tune-ups at Village Theatre in Issaquah. Village Theatre alumnus and Issaquah High School grad Brian Yorkey is responsible for the searing book and lyrics.

Read more

Broadway beckons Village Theatre musicals

February 15, 2011

Musicals nurtured at Issaquah theater charm audiences and rack up awards in the Big Apple

Tony Award-winning actress Alice Ripley (center, seated) leads the ‘Next to Normal’ cast in a performance at the Arena Stage, the musical’s last stop before debuting on Broadway. By Joan Marcus

The brick-and-glass theater along a fashionable street in Oslo, Norway, seems like a strange place to re-create Yankee suburbia.

Onstage, “Next to Normal” — a rock musical fostered in Issaquah — is about to be performed. The story about a suburban — and quite American — family straining against mental illness has been translated into Norwegian for the international premiere.

The debut last September marked a milestone for the musical. “Next to Normal” had already stormed Broadway — earning Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the process.

Before the accolades and Oslo, “Next to Normal” emerged in a Village Theatre program designed to foster original musicals.

The long-running program has cemented the reputation of the downtown Issaquah playhouse as a cradle for Broadway.

Village Theatre cultivated “Next to Normal” and the jukebox musical “Million Dollar Quartet” from unpolished ideas to splashy Broadway musicals in recent years.

Read more

What is ‘Normal’?

February 15, 2011

‘Next to Normal’ tour is homecoming for Issaquah native Brian Yorkey

Actors Jeremy Kushnier (left), Alice Ripley and Asa Somers perform a scene in the national 'Next to Normal' tour. By Craig Schwartz

Long before the Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, and longer still before director Rob Reiner indicated interest in a possible film adaptation, the blockbuster musical “Next to Normal” originated as a barebones reading at Village Theatre.

Now, almost a decade and a cartful of statuettes later, the national “Next to Normal” tour is about to reach The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. The musical opens Feb. 22.

The opening represents a homecoming for the author and lyricist, Issaquah native and Issaquah High School graduate Brian Yorkey. “Next to Normal” precursor “Feeling Electric” received a reading at the 2002 Festival of New Musicals and a 2005 workshop at the downtown Issaquah playhouse.

“So much of my theatrical life is in Seattle, and people know my work more as a director and from other shows, and for them to have a chance to see ‘Next to Normal’ — which is maybe the thing that I’m proudest of that I’ve done — is really exciting for me,” Yorkey said.

The rock musical about a family on the edge and tackling mental illness opened on Broadway in early 2009. Then, came a cavalcade of honors for show: Tonys for the lead actress, score and orchestrations; a Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and a national tour.

Read more

Meet the many faces of Tony-winning ‘Next to Normal’ actress Alice Ripley

February 15, 2011

Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman

Actress Alice Ripley cries a monsoon in each “Next to Normal” performance as suburban mom Diana Goodman.

The lead character suffers from bipolar disorder, but electroshock therapy and pills, pills, pills cannot quiet the illness. Ripley has occupied the challenging role since “Next to Normal” debuted Off Broadway in early 2008 and earned a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the Broadway staging the following year.

“I see ‘Next to Normal’ as a story about every family that has experienced loss and grief, because that is what ‘Next to Normal’ is about, in my view,” she said.

Ripley and the national “Next to Normal” tour reach The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle on Feb. 22.

“Alice did what you always hope an actor does with such a vital role in a new show,” Issaquah native and “Next to Normal” author-lyricist Brian Yorkey said. “You want an actor to come into the rehearsal room and pick up the script and say, ‘OK, this part’s mine. I am this person.’”

Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman

Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt kept Ripley in mind as “Next to Normal” and the precursor “Feeling Electric” ricocheted from workshop to workshop.

“Initially, I am drawn to raw material. Then, I saturate myself with facts from the world I am entering — her story,” Ripley said. “After that, anything goes. Actors must use their imaginations to fill in the gaps of information.”

“Next to Normal” demands a nonstop stream of combustible emotions from Ripley in each performance. The actress has left a long-lasting imprimatur after hundreds of outings as Diana.

“Since Diana lives in me and I am an ever-changing human, it stands to reason that we have both grown and changed in the four years that I have known her,” Ripley said.

Emma Hunton portrays troubled daughter Natalie in the national tour. The role puts mother and daughter at loggerheads.

“It’s like watching a master class, because Alice is one of those actors who will challenge you onstage,” Hunton said.

The unfiltered look at mental illness — and the anguish the Goodman family endures — has imparted lessons to Ripley’s “Next to Normal” costars.

“With Alice, it’s sort of unexpected. You never know what you’re going to get, which keeps you on your toes and makes the show really fresh,” Hunton said. “If I’ve learned anything from her, it’s never to do the same thing twice.”

Brian Yorkey answers questions Monday about ‘Next to Normal’

January 8, 2011

NEW — 2 p.m. Jan. 8, 2011

Brian Yorkey takes to the stage Monday to discuss the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Next to Normal” — weeks before the national tour reaches Seattle.

Yorkey, a former Village Theatre associate artistic director and Issaquah High School alumnus, is scheduled to participate in Spotlight Night at The 5th Avenue Theatre.

David Armstrong, 5th Avenue Theatre executive producer and artistic director, hosts the Q&A session.

Yorkey appears at the Seattle theater to discuss the rock musical “Next to Normal” — a dysfunctional-family-drama about a bipolar-disorder-afflicted housewife.

The piece earned Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt the Pulitzer Prize for Drama — a rarity reserved for only a handful of musicals — early last year.

Read more

Issaquah tragedies, triumphs define a tumultuous year

December 28, 2010

Traffic lines up on state Route 900 at Northwest Talus Drive in February. State Department of Transportation crews completed the long-running project in 2010. By Greg Farrar

The economy lurched from the recession, population growth all but stalled and Issaquah — after cutbacks and setbacks in 2009 — defied the odds to reach major milestones throughout 2010.

Momentum returned in 2010 after a year spent in a holding pattern. Set against the backdrop of a fragile recovery, leaders cut the ribbon on businesses and roads, laid the foundation for preservation and construction, and marked tragedies and successes. Read more

‘Sleuth’ tickets go on sale at Village Theatre

December 21, 2010

Solve a mystery at Village Theatre.

The downtown Issaquah theater presents “Sleuth” from Jan. 19 to Feb. 27. Theatergoers can purchase tickets at the theater website, www.villagetheatre.org. Or call the box office at 392-2202. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office, 303 Front St. N., from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets range from $20 to $60.

“Sleuth” has earned the Tony Award for Best Play. The production is the lone play in a musical-packed Village Theatre season. Read more

Brian Yorkey returns to direct ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

July 27, 2010

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Issaquah High School alumnus Brian Yorkey returns to Village Theatre in May to direct the blockbuster “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The rock musical about the last days of Jesus Christ runs in Issaquah from May 11 to July 3, and then opens for a monthlong run in Everett.

Before he headed to Broadway, Yorkey served as associate artistic director for Village Theatre. He started at the theater as a pioneering force in the popular youth education program, KIDSTAGE.

Read more

Off the Press

July 6, 2010

Is that a famous person? Quick, get the camera!

Issaquah is not in Southern California, if all the rain and forests didn’t give it away. But our town on the edge of the greater Seattle area is linked to its fair share of recognizable and famous people. Some have moved here, others used to live here and some just drop in from time to time.

So, just who are these famous folks who graced Issaquah at one time or another, you ask? Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock; Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki; sportscaster Rick Rizzs; former Mariners Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Paul Sorrento, J.J. Putz, Omar Vizquel, Dave Valle and Jeff Nelson; former Seattle Supersonics Detlef Schrempf and Ray Allen; Pulitzer-winning playwright Brian Yorkey; authors Deb Caletti and Serena Rolan; actress Cynthia Geary, who played Shelly Marie Tambo on “Northern Exposure”; Lockergnome founder Chris Pirillo; and Red and Rover comic strip artist Brian Basset.

Also, don’t forget Colin Curtis, who graduated from Issaquah High School and now plays for the New York Yankees. Oh, and Train lead singer Pat Monahan lives somewhere up on Lake Sammamish as well, although that may be just out of city limits.

Others who have been said to live here include The Decemberists’ bassist Nate Query, NBC news correspondent Margaret Larson and filmmaker Phil Lucas, who passed away in 2007.

Many of the city’s notable residents have been featured in The Issaquah Press before, and it may not be unusual to see some of them around town. However, the more famous people in the area aren’t seen around town as often, and their exact whereabouts can be hard to pinpoint.

Read more

Retiring instructor loses his sight, but not his passion for teaching

June 22, 2010

Issaquah High School graduates Amy Saad (left) and Christina Joo visit David Mickelsen’s classroom to give him a basket full of his favorite snack — chocolate. The girls said they bought every type of chocolate Hershey’s makes and told him not to eat it in one sitting. By Chantelle Lusebrink

In 43 years of teaching, more than 6,400 students have walked through David Mickelsen’s classroom door at Issaquah High School.

What he hopes they’ve come away with are lessons not only in U.S. History and European studies, but a lesson in confidence, he said before retiring June 17.

Confidence and heart

From the front of the classroom, Mickelsen, 67, has given some of the most animated lectures in Issaquah’s history.

Casting himself in character roles adopted from the history books, like a medieval peasant and a 1920s-era husband against women’s suffrage, he kept students entertained and made history unforgettable and fun, said Mary Lou Priestley-Fine, an assistant in his classroom.

“I had him for all three years at Issaquah, whether as a student or a teacher’s aide and it was an honor to have him,” said Amy Saad, a 2010 graduate. “He definitely changed my life for the better.”

But as the years passed and students came and went, the stage on which he performed has grown darker.

Mickelsen was diagnosed in 1971 with optic nerve atrophy, a degenerative disease that deteriorates the optic nerve and has left him legally blind.

Though he can still distinguish bright colors, patterns and large objects, Mickelsen walks with the help of a cane and gives textbook lessons from memory.

A teaching career begins

Mickelsen graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1961.

Though his father was a teacher at Queen Anne High School, “I didn’t really enjoy school, but my mom said I was going to college,” he said. “I didn’t really know I was going to be a teacher until I student taught.”

During a student teaching assignment in Seattle, Mickelsen said he worked extensively with one young boy who had special needs and it gave him a soft spot for children who don’t learn like others.

“Just the idea that he had a hard time understanding got me curious,” he said. “I told myself there must be more than one way to teach this boy.” Read more

« Previous PageNext Page »