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.
“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.
February 22, 2011
Issaquah resident and ‘Annie’ lyricist Martin Charnin discusses long theater career
The list is impressive: gold and platinum records, Emmy Awards, and Drama Desk and Tony awards for a blockbuster musical about a redheaded orphan.
“Annie” elevated Issaquah resident Martin Charnin — already a successful songwriter — into the Broadway stratosphere in 1977. The comic-strip-turned-musical marked another milestone for Charnin, the director and lyricist.
Charnin originated the role of Big Deal, a Jet, in the original “West Side Story” production and later penned the musicals “Two by Two” — a Noah and the ark retelling — the immigrant tale “I Remember Mama” and “The First” — a show about color-barrier-breaking baseball star Jackie Robinson. The lyricist also collaborated alongside Richard Rodgers in the years before the seminal composer died in 1979.
“Annie” — and the chipper anthem “Tomorrow” — continues to define a long theater career.
“You reach a point in your life where it sort of becomes your middle name,” Charnin said. “It becomes Martin ‘Annie’ Charnin and, while I’m not for a moment dumping on that — I think that’s grand — and every author, writer, director, producer should have one of those.”
Charnin settled in Issaquah after a 2004 stop at Village Theatre to direct “Robin Hood: The Legend Continues” — a musical about the aging outlaw and middle-aged Merry Men. The longtime scribe created the lyrics for the show, too.
Charnin agreed to direct the mystery “Sleuth” in the ongoing Village Theatre season. The play runs at the downtown Issaquah theater through Feb. 27.
February 15, 2011
Musicals nurtured at Issaquah theater charm audiences and rack up awards in the Big Apple
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.
February 15, 2011
How to succeed in show business
In hindsight, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” seems like a prescient choice for a fledgling theater in a then-distant Seattle suburb.
The musical debuted at the just-christened Village Theatre in April 1979 — decades before the downtown Issaquah playhouse received a shout out during a Tony Awards telecast and credit for sending acclaimed musicals to face the toughest audiences in theater.
Only, unlike the title of the inaugural musical, Village Theatre tried again and again.
The playhouse has churned out hits — including “Next to Normal” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” the Village Theatre-nurtured duo responsible for hauling in the Tonys — and some duds, too, in almost 32 years.
For a piece in the wintertime Issaquah Living magazine, I set out to chronicle the long — and often arduous — journey from the Festival of New Musicals or the Mainstage to Broadway. (Readers can find the magazine tucked amid the sales circulars in the B section.)
February 15, 2011
‘Next to Normal’ tour is homecoming for Issaquah native Brian Yorkey
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.
February 15, 2011
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.’”
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.”
February 8, 2011
Jack and Annie climbed into their magic tree house and pointed at a book. As in all of the “Magic Tree House” stories, the book they chose sped them through time and space.
Random House Children’s Books brought the series to life with its Magic Tree House website, where a spunky Annie and eager Jack quiz readers about their historical, out-of-this-world adventures.
Issaquah Middle School sixth-grader Emily Rudolph knows the website well — she does the voice for Annie, guiding participants through games on the website.
“I’ve been reading ‘Magic Tree House’ since second grade,” she said. “I feel like I can relate to Annie.”
Emily has already recorded twice at Cricket Moon Media in Seattle, and Producer Laura Nash said she looked forward to more sessions with the pint-sized star.
“She just has a really great reading voice,” Nash said. “She is unusually peppy and friendly. She sounds like an all-American kid without trying, which is really hard to do.”
Though new to voice recording, Emily is familiar with show business. In 2007-08, she and her older brother Josh Rudolph played two of the King of Siam’s children in “The King and I” at Village Theatre.
The acting bug bit her. Onstage she could sing, dance and transform herself into another person.
January 11, 2011
The stage thriller “Sleuth” presented a mystery to the director.
Director Martin Charnin hoped to ferret out a copy of the 1972 film adaptation — a whodunit starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.
The search turned up only a single DVD. The cost: $120. The catch: The version featured Bulgarian subtitles. Read more
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.
December 28, 2010
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