Hoof'n'Horn takes a serious turn in 'Next to Normal'

This winter, Hoof 'n’ Horn looks to start new conversations about mental illness in “Next to Normal.”

“Next to Normal” is a 2009 Broadway rock musical that explores the journey of the Goodman family. Diana Goodman, the mother, is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and undergoes different treatments for her mental illness. The musical also covers how she and her family cope with her mental health journey. The production features a cast of six total actors, a small number for a well-known musical.

The show prides itself on the realism in its storyline and characters, especially in dealing with the relationships in the Goodman family.

“My cast and I are very interested in the way that ‘Next to Normal’ seems to want to portray family dynamics as realistically as possible,” said sophomore Savannah Lynn, the show’s director. “[It] tries to not hold punches in the way that people react to things--the way that we connect with each other when it comes to dealing with things like this, like tough situations in a family.”

Hoof 'n’ Horn is also proud of the realistic set it has created for the show. For “Next to Normal,” the production crew has pulled together to make a more elaborate set, featuring a kitchen with hardwood floors as well as moving parts to create different backgrounds. The show uses many different locations, and the crew was able to use just a few key pieces to create entirely different areas for the scenes to take place.

“It’s really cool seeing how easily you can get the audience’s attention from place to place on the stage just by turning things around and shining light in different places,” said freshman Chandler Richards, a member of the set-changing crew.

The production crew focused in on small details that bring the musical to life such as putting out food and drink for the characters to eat, as well as using natural hair and makeup to demonstrate how realistic the characters are.

Writers Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey took full advantage of the musical format of “Next to Normal,” writing over 30 songs, ranging in style from jazzy and folk songs to beautiful ballads and powerful group numbers.

“They have focused on a topic that is so emotional, that is so complicated, that is so moving, and they put it with an art form that is so dramatic and so moving and so emotional,” said music director Andrew Jacobs, noting the unique combination of the musical format and the issues of mental health, loss and grief explored during the show.

While “Next to Normal” deals with mental illness and how it affects relationships among family, it also takes a look at the mental health industry as a whole.

Diana goes through a series of different treatments and interacts with the doctors Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden. The two doctors represent different extremes in the industry, as Dr. Fine is only in the business for the money, while Dr. Madden genuinely cares about Diana and what is best for her. Diana also needs to try different strategies to treat her illness, shining light on the reality that not every treatment works for every patient. Diana’s journey through different doctors and treatments represents a truth for many people who do suffer from mental illness.

“The things that Diana sees through her various treatment options and the doctors that she sees are things that happen very realistically,” Lynn said.

Sophomore Simon Wolf, a University of North Carolina Chapel Hill student and the actor playing both Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine, said that the show allowed him to explore the more professional side of mental health. Wolf did online research and talked to clinical psychologists to learn more about why people want to go into the mental health industry. He then incorporated this information into his characterizations of both Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden.

“It’s been very eye-opening to come at a big social issue from a very different perspective,” Wolf said.

The show is particularly timely, since issues of mental health are increasingly discussed across Duke’s campus. The Duke chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health was recently founded, and Duke’s Counseling and Psychological Services is becoming a more prominent force at the university.

The Saturday performances of the show will be followed by a discussion with CAPS in which audience members can take time to reflect on the themes explored in the show.

“We’re looking to bring some of the conversation that arises from ‘Next to Normal’ into the Duke community and thinking about how the show applies to the community that we walk through every day,” Lynn said.

The cast and crew of “Next to Normal” are excited to explore such new territory and spark new ideas and discussions on campus.

“We’ve never waded into such murky waters before—in a good way,” Jacobs said.

“Next to Normal” opens Jan. 21 and runs through Jan. 31 in Sheafer Theater.


Share and discuss “Hoof'n'Horn takes a serious turn in 'Next to Normal' ” on social media.