Thursday, June 13, 2024

Pascale Florestal is director and choreographer of “Next to Normal” at the Central Square Theater. (Photo: Central Square Theater)

“Next to Normal,” about the impact of mental illness on family, is coming to the Central Square Theater this June as part of a collaboration between the theater and Front Porch Arts Collective, a Black theater company committed to advancing racial equity in Boston-area theater.

“Next to Normal” is about the lives of Diana (Sheree Marcelle), her husband Dan (Anthony Pires Jr.), and their teenage kids Natalie (Cortlandt Barrett) and Gabe (Diego Cintrón). In many ways, they’re a typical American family – but Diana has bipolar disorder. The musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as three Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, explores the day-to-day realities of bipolar disorder and its impact on family relationships. Written by Brian Yorkey and composed by Tom Kitt, it premiered on Broadway in 2009.

The Central Square Theater and Front Porch Arts Collective production will be the first New England production to feature a Black family.

“From the moment I first saw ‘Next to Normal’ on Broadway I knew I wanted to see a production with a Black family. When I pitched the show, this was always the intention,” director and choreographer Pascale Florestal said.

The show challenges the idea of what it means to be normal, and much of it, Florestal said, asks audiences to question why we are expected to act the way society wants us to.

“From the family dynamic among the characters to the unique set, I think many aspects of our production challenge certain expectations that people face as young people and as adults,” Florestal said.

By placing a Black family at the center of it, Florestal said she hopes the play will give Black audiences the opportunity to see themselves represented in a narrative about dealing openly with mental illness.

“It reminds everyone that we all go through these issues as humans and our stories, as Black people, are normal too,” Florestal said.

It’s Florestal’s first time directing at Central Square Theater, but it’s a reunion for Marcelle and Pires Jr. – playing wife Diana and husband Dan – after performing together in “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” a 2022 co-production between Front Porch, Central Square Theater and Great Boston Stage. Barrett and Cintrón, playing siblings Natalie and Gabe, are students at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee; Cintrón graduated this month, and Barrett enters her second year in the fall.

The show opens May 30 and runs through June 23. Tickets start at $25 and are available online at centralsquaretheater.org and fronchporcharts.org.