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Cambridge theater first in New England to put Black family at center of "Next to Normal"

Cambridge theater puts Black family at center of award-winning rock opera “Next to Normal”
Cambridge theater puts Black family at center of award-winning rock opera “Next to Normal” 03:02

CAMBRIDGE - Mom, dad, two kids in high school; what appears to be a typical American family is anything but, as they deal with challenge after challenge behind closed doors.

"Next to Normal" highlights one woman's struggle with manic depression and the toll it takes on her family. The new production at Central Square Theater is the first in New England to feature a Black family at the center of this story.

The concept has been something director and choreographer Pascale Florestal has been dreaming of putting on stage for years.

"So often when I think of musical theater, you know, a lot of the stories, if they are centering people of color, it's all about race or all about the struggles, and I really wanted to have an opportunity for people to see a family like any other family, but a family that looks like my family," Florestal explained.

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning opera

The Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning pop-rock opera tackles some heavy topics.

"It is a story of how do you move on from grief. How does grief intersect with anxiety and mental illness? How does a family around someone who's coping with mental illness, what did they do? How did they react?" Co-Artistic Director Lee Mikeska Gardner says.

While the subject matter can be challenging, it's surrounded by some humor, some memorable songs, and a few surprises.

This piece is a co-production with Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theater company in Boston, which is working to increase diversity on local stages.

Florestal tells WBZ, "Often times, you know, people in this cast don't get seen in these roles. And I think that's something we're very passionate about at the Front Porch is giving people of color opportunity to be in roles that normally you wouldn't get them to see in. And I think that is the most beautiful part of the show."

You can see "Next to Normal" at Central Square Theater in Cambridge through June 30th.  

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