Jacob Interviews….Next to Normal’s Nicole Capri

The “Next to Normal” tour is currently in Kansas City. Recently, I caught up with the production’s director Nicole Capri. (Photo property of the Next to Normal tour)

By: Jacob Elyachar

One of the most intriguing Broadway musicals that appeared on the Great White Way in the past decade is Next to Normal.   This rock opera won three 2009 Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, it was eighth musical to win the award as it joined Rent, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and A Chorus Line in this elite group.    Next to Normal’s plot focuses on a mother who struggles to be the perfect wife and parent while dealing with bipolar disorder.   The rock opera also deals with powerful topics including grieving, suicide and drug abuse.

Right now, a production directed by Nicole Capri, is being performed at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City.   I had the chance to talk to Ms. Capri about the show, her involvement with the rock opera and her advice to aspiring actors.

Jacob Elyachar: Nicole, could you please describe what Next to Normal is about?

Nicole Capri: It is basically a rock opera.  A lot of people call it a rock musical but it is really a rock opera because 90-percent of the dialogue is sung.  The really interesting thing about the show is that it won three Tony Awards and also a Pulitzer Prize, which is pretty rare because only eight musicals have won the Pulitzer.

Basically, the show deals with a lot of different topics and follows the life of a woman named Diana as she deals with bipolar disorder and how the effects have on her and her family.  You will see her go through treatments from drug therapy to shock therapy and talk therapy.   One of the things I love about this show is that not only does it follow her journey but also it follows the journey of all the people in her inner circle and how they are trying to cope with it.    It sounds like it is a heavy show that deals with tough issues but there are spots that you are going to laugh, cry and it is one of the best moving pieces I have ever seen.

One of the things that I love so much about Next to Normal is after the show is the audience comes out every night and say: “I identify with this character or I know somebody just like this character.”  It’s definitely a thinker at the end of the show and something that you go away and you think about.

JE: Why did you want to direct this musical?

NC:  I wanted to direct it ever since I saw it on Broadway years ago. I personally wanted to do it because the subject matter is so interesting.  It’s really broadening the scope of what musicals are about and normally you don’t think about mental illness in musical theater but I thought it was an important story to tell and for me personally, it is a game changer for me because I am normally known as a musical comedy or comedy director and I wanted to sic my teeth into something a little bit tougher.

JE: Let’s talk about the cast.  How do these individuals prepare for their characters?

NC:  When I went to New York to audition this show, I think I had more applicants and people who submitted for this project than any other in the history of our theatre.   We probably had 5,000 people apply because this is a show that actors want to do right now.   This is a hot show not because the music is so great and the acting opportunities are so great but the subject matter is so interesting.   I really feel that we have the best of the best because we had so many people apply and it is interesting because extremely attractive smart actors who do their homework and they not have to only sing in this show but they really have to be actors first.

Next to Normal is an acting show; it’s not fluffy musical theatre.   They are smart actors who have done their homework and based out of New York and they really came with their homework done.  We spent a lot of time with psychiatric professionals; psychotherapists come in and we had a guy who was a head of marriage and family therapy come in and talk and we had shock therapists come in and talked to them.   The actors were able to interact with them in this process and asked them questions because they wanted the way they approach the stories that they were telling were true to life.

JE: What is it like working with them?

NC:  It is probably the most talented cast I have ever had.  It’s interesting because they all have different thinking processes.   Good directing is 90-percent good casting.  If I can get the right mix of people, the rest of my job kind of falls into place.  Part of my job as a director is to shepherd and to make sure that we are all on the same page and telling the same story.    They are intuitive, they come in with great ideas and it is one of the very lucky times in my career where I feel like I am super blessed and got it 100-percent right.

JE: If you have any advice for aspiring actors who want to be part of the Next to Normal family or want to work with you, what would it be?

NC:  It’s interesting because I see hundreds of actors in a span of a few days in auditions and that one of the things that sticks out in my mind and that is what makes somebody memorable to me.   I think the ability to bring yourself to an audition is very rare.  What I mean by that is to bring who you are and not who you are as the character.  I want to see somebody I want to have coffee with and who I want to hang out with.   I can add character stuff later but I want to see somebody who is confident and authentic enough, be themselves and character free to an audition.

Directors know within 30 seconds if you are in or not in.  A lot of it is pretty much out of your hands.  Are you too tall? Too blonde or too this or too that?  Although I had my mind changed, I had pre-conceived notions of what the characters look like.  If someone walks in and rocks it, then my mind completely changes.  I am writing a show right now these aspiring artists and actors and how tough the reality of this business is.  Even Broadway actors can’t claim Broadway as their permanent address it is a temporal type of lifestyle but you know what I rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable.  If you love theatre, just keep going and keep working on your craft.

To learn more about Next to Normal’s visit to Kansas City Theater’s Website: http://www.kansas-city-theater.com/index_musicals.php

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Copyright 2019 Jacob Elyachar