Best Bets: Milton Theatre stages ‘Next to Normal’ musical

Senior Airman Josh Dinan as Dan Goodman, and Erin Bobby as Diana Goodman in Milton Theatre’s “Next to Normal.” (Submitted photos)

For Fred Munzert, directing the musical “Next to Normal,” has been a decade in the making.

“This piece is very personal for me. I saw it not long after it opened on Broadway and it hit me hard. I liked how real-life it was. Oftentimes musicals are in these surreal, other places. But this has all of these emotions. The characters feel everything and the music is amazing,” he said of the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning production coming this weekend to The Milton Theatre.

Made up of a cast of six with a full live band, “Next to Normal” is a 2008 rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt.

The story centers on a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her family. The musical addresses grief, depression, suicide, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry and the underbelly of suburban life.

The production follows the success of Milton Theatre’s first in-house production, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in April.

“We’re always trying to mix it up here,” said Mr. Munzert, who is also Milton Theatre’s executive director.

“My background has been in directing and producing before I came to The Milton Theatre. But in five years, I hadn’t done it at all.

“It was all about presenting touring productions and bringing in other acts. So we thought we would offer a change of pace for folks.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” turned out to be a huge success for the theater, selling out most of the five shows over three days.

“We had a great weekend. We recouped our expenses. Doing one of these is so darn expensive but the community supported it so we decided to squeeze in another before the end of the year.”

One of the big obstacles to mounting a production such as this one is the tight pre-production schedule. Because the theater is used for performances throughout much of the week, rehearsal and technical preparation time is minimal.

“We cast the show in June and got materials in everyone’s hands and made sure they came to the first rehearsal off book, meaning they had everything memorized,” Mr. Munzert said.

Rehearsal time was limited to the past two weekends and then every day this week.

“It’s definitely been a short process. It’s been challenging,” Mr. Munzert said.

Milton Theatre Executve Director Fred Munzert will be personally taking the reins for “Next To Normal”.

“But shutting down just for rehearsal would cost us money. We wouldn’t be able to run any other shows during that time. So it’s been very hard to block out large blocks of time to put it all together.”

Despite tackling the enormity of the production in a short time, which includes installing a whole new lighting grid, Mr. Munzert said Tuesday that the production schedule was on track for tonight’s opening performance.

“It’s been fun to get to do something so creative. We’ve had a lot more of the staff members get involved this time around,” Mr. Munzert said.

“It’s been very intricate. We’ve probably spent about 20 hours just on the lighting design alone.”

Leading the cast is Miltonian Erin Bobby, who will be playing the role of lead role of Diana Goodman. Senior Airman Josh Dinan, who is an active-duty officer at the Dover Air Force Base, will play Dan Goodman, her husband.

From left, Matt Lewis as Gabe, Connor Graham as Natalie, and Shane Dinan as Henry.

Milton Theatre Education Director Connor Lee Graham will be taking on the role of Natalie. Rounding out the cast is Matt Lewis from Ocean City, Md. as Gabe; Shane Dinan of Asheville, N.C. as Henry; and Jason Beil of Newark as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine.

Mr. Munzert said the casting process was long and difficult for him.

“This piece means a lot to me and I wanted to make sure that the cast was going to give it what it deserved,” he said.

“It’s such a powerful piece. It’s not just about learning a dance step and singing a song a certain way. Characters go to dark places. The lead character of Diana is bipolar and has a lot of mood swings throughout the show. Getting these characters to these kind of dark places and not making it look like acting is really the strength of the piece.”

The show premieres tonight at 8 and then goes for two shows Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $27-$32. Purchase them online at www.MiltonTheatre.com, via phone by calling 302-684-3038 or at the box office at 110 Union St.

As Mr. Munzert says the musical would be probably be “rated R if it was a movie,” audience members age 14 and under will require adult supervision.

Zombie Fest resurrected

In other goings on at the Milton Theatre, the annual Zombie Fest is back from the dead.

Originally called off last month due to limitations imposed by the town, Mr. Munzert said the sixth year for the event, that attracted 5,000 participants from across the country last year, will happen after all.

It is set for Oct. 19 with full details to be announced on Sept. 23.

For the first five years, the Zombie Fest stage was at the Milton Historical Society lot on Magnolia Street, but flooding problems made that impossible this year.

“They are trying to get their water issues fixed and were concerned about water laying around, which were legitimate concerns,” Mr. Munzert said.

“We went to the town to see if we could take it to the street in front of the theater. We started the process with DelDOT back in March. That started to get further drawn out. In June, the mayor and council decided that they didn’t want it on the street and they didn’t want so many food trucks and that’s where we were going to get the revenue from to make it a free event this year instead of a gated event such as last year.

“So it was really getting sketchy. We love the event and do it for the town and all of the residents but we just couldn’t offset the costs to make it happen.”

And so the decision was made to cancel the event for this year and revisit it next year. Within 48 hours of making the announcement, Mr. Munzert said, 11 offers came from other towns and businesses offering their venues to bring it back.

“At first we thought there was no way we could redo and move it but we think we’ve found a way to make it work,” he said.

Mr. Munzert said he was surprised to get so many offers so quickly.

“The town made their decision and that’s their prerogative. It just didn’t make sense to us why they wouldn’t want to shut down the street for a little while — we tried to make the hours shorter but that didn’t work — even from a community and commerce standpoint,” he said.

“Then other towns and businesses started calling and we thought that maybe we should rethink this whole thing.”

In the past, the Halloween-themed event has included music, food trucks and a Zombie Walk, featuring participants dressed up in their scariest costumes. A portion of the proceeds benefit local charities.

Jake Owen in Harrington

Country music star Jake Owen will play the Delaware State Fair’s Quillen Arena in Harrington tonight.

The ACM Award-nominated singer/songwriter’s current Top 10 single is “Down To The Honkytonk.” That follows Mr. Owen’s seventh career No. 1 hit, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane).” Both are off his latest album “Greetings from Jake,” which was released in March.

Doors will open at 6 p.m. Australian country-pop duo Seaforth will take the stage at 7.

Country music star Jake Owen will perform tonight at Harrington’s Quillen Arena.

Pit tickets are $75, floor reserved seating is $45 and general admission bleachers tickets are $40. Prices do not include service fees.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.delawarestatefair.com, or by calling eTix at 1-800-514-3849.

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’

Possum Point Players present the American classic “Arsenic and Old Lace” today and Saturday and Sept. 20, and 21 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday and Sept. 22, at 2 p.m. at Possum Hall, 441 Old Laurel Road, Georgetown.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $19 for students and seniors. Call (302) 856-4560 or visit www.possumpointplayers.org for tickets or more information.

The plot tells of drama critic Mortimer Brewster who is engaged to the lovely Elaine Harper. However, he has to wonder, will she fit in with his “unusual” family? Aunts Abby and Martha Brewster are known throughout Brooklyn for their many acts of kindness and charity. But Mortimer learns that his charming spinster aunts have taken to relieving the loneliness of old men by inviting them in for a nice glass of homemade elderberry wine. Wine that is laced with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch” of cyanide.

‘Run for Your Wife’

“Run For Your Wife,” Second Street Players’ fast-paced comedy also opens at the Riverfront Theater in downtown Milford tonight.

When cabbie John Smith, played by Brandon Twilley from Felton, is injured intervening in a mugging, his multi-matrimonial life of lies is turned upside down. With the help of his neighbor Stanley, played by Josiah Rich of Dover, John heaps lies upon lies to cover up his secret. The result is a mixture of slapstick and mistaken identities reminiscent of Monty Python.

“Run For Your Wife” is directed by Steve Twilley.

“Audiences are in for some side-splitting, laugh-filled entertainment,” Mr. Twilley said. “This cast is so talented and has been working so hard. Watching them bring these characters to life as they run from house to house, tell lie after lie, and confuse wives, neighbors and the police as they do it all has kept us all laughing during rehearsals. We can’t wait to share this with audiences.”

Performances are today and Saturday and Sept. 20 and 21 with curtain at 7 p.m. and matinees on Sunday and Sept. 22 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $17 with a $1 discount for seniors, students and military at the Sunday matinees. Reserved seating tickets can be purchased at www.secondstreetplayers.com or by calling the box office at 800-838-3006.

Riverfront Theatre is at 2 S. Walnut St.

Second Friday

Also in Milford tonight, Second Friday presents cool jazz by Mike Kelly.

He will be presenting a live performance of classic songs in a format called “Music Minus One,” a form of karaoke but having a live player do the melody while still having a full band accompaniment.

Second Friday is a free, family-oriented program hosted by the First Presbyterian Church, 101 S. Walnut St., Milford. The program starts at 7 p.m.

Now Showing

New this weekend in movie theaters is Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers” and Nicole Kidman in the drama “The Goldfinch.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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