PORT ANGELES — It’s not likely anyone has described “Next to Normal” as a feel-good show. Instead it’s known as “the feel-everything musical,” which is why singer-actor-director Mark Lorentzen fell in love with it years ago.
Lorentzen first met “Next to Normal” in a workshop at the Village Theatre in Issaquah; he never forgot the story.
Today, more than a decade later, Mark and his wife, Danielle Lorentzen, run a theater company, Ghostlight Productions. Tonight, the pair and their crew will open “Next to Normal” for a three-week run.
At the Port Angeles Community Playhouse through Feb. 9, they will bring their audiences inside the “Normal” household: Diana Goodman, her husband, Dan, and their children, Gabe and Natalie.
They’re like many families we know: living lives of love and struggle. Diana suffers from bipolar disorder; Dan is determined to be the emotional rock. Gabe is a playful, bright young man while his younger sister Natalie, at 16, is doing her darnedest to be perfect.
“Next to Normal” is a musical that goes deep, deep into how we deal with loss, grief, illness and growing up. It’s a show “meant for everyone,” Mark Lorentzen believes.
“It features some gritty material,” he said, “but for every one of those scenes, there are others that remind you of what hope looks like and what love is.”
And the score. It’s one of the most unforgettable Mark has ever heard, which is saying something. Between Ghostlight and other theater companies on the Peninsula, he’s been part of “Les Miserables,” “Titanic: The Musical,” “Godspell,” “South Pacific” and “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”
The Broadway production of “Next to Normal” won the Tony Award nine years ago for Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s original score; the show then won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The show has toured North America and unfolded on stages from Philippines and Australia to Norway and Argentina.
In Ghostlight’s production of “Normal,” Mark is directing performers from across the region. Seattle-based Equity actress Ila Faubion portrays Diana, while Angela Poynter of Sequim, well-known for her work here, plays this role in the Sunday matinees. Local actor Jeremy Pederson is the steadfast Dan; Mark plays the almost-adult Gabe; Sequim’s Ron Graham plays Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden, Diana’s doctors; Ben Heintz is Natalie’s boyfriend, the philosopher-slacker Henry.
As Natalie, Danielle Lorentzen is undertaking a role both sympathetic and supremely challenging.
“It’s easy,” she began, “because I’ve been a 16-year-old girl. I know what it’s like to struggle with the pressures of everyday life as a teenager.
“Natalie goes through love, heartbreak and healing, all throughout the course of the show. And I think everyone can relate to that.
“The difficult part is letting myself as an actor feel all of these emotions of anger and pain and vulnerability. … All the songs are big and passionate, so you really have to be careful not to overdo it.”
“Next to Normal” has been called the “feel-everything musical.” Actors and audience members go into the wringer together — a powerful experience, said Danielle.
“When we don’t feel, we can’t heal,” she said. “Feeling is what makes us human.”
For Pederson, who as Dan will do almost anything to build a normal life for his family, there are especially affecting moments in the show: when he and Diana argue — in song — about their ways of facing grief.
The numbers “You Don’t Know” and “I Am the One” reflect “how we see and deal with things differently, and sometimes we aren’t able to see the validity in another’s point of view,” Pederson said.
“Normal” can be dark, yet it has its rays of light and comedy, he added. These provide sweet relief.
“It is a very touching human story,” he said, “and for anyone dealing with or experiencing depression or mental illness, it has a message of hope.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.