Theatre department’s “Next to Normal” cast gives stellar performance

Don Lierman

The agonies of mental illness set to a rock beat may sound a bit macabre, but “Next to Normal” is a musical that is anything but condescending or patronizing. The UM-Flint department of Theatre & Dance is staging an adaptation of the musical this weekend. If you have been touched by the disability or know someone who has, the show is a must as tears of joy and sorrow interspersed to a rhythm may not only be familiar, but also cathartic.

If you are lucky enough not to have been touched by the ravages of mental illness, it is still an excellent tale. The music delivers a spirit that mixes with the emotions unleashed by the play to carry the plot along. Add to this a stellar performance by a mostly student cast and you have the ingredients of a night to remember.

The music, which deals with the aftermath of loss as well as the psychiatric disorders that arise from that trauma, was the recipient of both Tony and Pulitzer awards. The University production is refined and allows the cast members an opportunity to shine. Especially exceptional are senior fine arts performance major Shelby Coleman as Diana and senior fine arts performance major Farrell Tatum as Natalie in their portrayals of the mother and daughter whose lives are intertwined in ways more similar than one would first perceive.

Senior fine arts major Andrew Eisengruber, as the harried father, takes on the characteristics of his character in a manner that belies his actual age. It must be acknowledged that all the actors perform above and beyond within the constrictions of a six-person cast.

The concluding performances of “Next to Normal” will be staged at the UM-Flint Theatre on Nov. 4 to Nov. 6. Friday and Saturday curtains will be at 7:30 p.m. The Sunday matinee will begin at 2 p.m. A talk back discussion will be held after the matinee performance on Nov. 6. An ASL interpreter will be at the matinee performance on Sunday, Nov. 6.

Tyler Rankin, a senior theatre design and technology major, is the lighting designer for the production.

“This deeply moving production is challenging me to look at mental illness from a difference perspective,” said Rankin. “The rock and roll tones behind the music have allowed me to try new techniques and technology I’ve learned about in my curriculum as a design student.”

Tickets for the show are $15 general admission and $10 for students, seniors, alumni, faculty, staff, and veterans.

“This show has changed my life in unexpected ways,” said cast member Gage Webster, 2nd year BA student, “By singing these songs and working with the material everyday I’ve found so many deeper meanings. There is a lot to be heard within the lyrics. I’m excited for audience members to experience it.”

For further information contact the UM-Flint Theatre Box Office at 810-237-6520 or visit

The UM-Flint department of Theatre & Dance’s adaptation of “Next to Normal” promises to be a rewarding evening of entertainment.