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Fine Arts Center stages musical about mental illness to benefit Youth Repertory program, NAMI 

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Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt's musical Next to Normal, which debuted in 2008, examines a suburban family, which includes a mother living with bipolar disorder during a time of crisis. It won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, as well as three 2009 Tony Awards for its Broadway run.

"It's a show that we all love," says Nathan Halvorson, associate director of performing arts for the Fine Arts Center. "It's a show that means something, that says something."

And it's coming to the FAC, for a one-night-only staged concert. For those unfamiliar, a staged concert offers a sing-through of the musical. The performers do say their spoken lines, and there's movement when necessary, but it mostly highlights the music.

"You're getting the whole experience. It's not a dance show," Halvorson explains. "It's a show about humanity and people living through life-and-death circumstances."

"I think it's a brilliant piece of theater, and I've wanted to do it for several years," says Susan Dawn Carson, a Broadway veteran perhaps best known locally as the former director of the FAC Youth Repertory Program. She stars as the mother, Diana Goodman. "It's an important piece of theater, I think, because it just puts it out there. It shines a light on a lot of issues that people would rather just not talk about, or find it very difficult to talk about."

The show has been staged with a cast built entirely from former instructors and students of the Youth Repertory Program. Halvorson says the five-week musical theater intensive program, which will enter its 18th year this summer, is "the only program like it anywhere near here.

"The students come here from nine to five — they're here eight hours a day — and they're taking classes in speech and movement and dance and singing and acting and any number of things. Then they rehearse a play and then perform it on the main stage of the Fine Arts Center," he explains. The program also recently expanded to include a high school program, currently in progress.

The program's mission: to give actors and actresses between the ages of 14 and 18 some professional stage training, helping them develop the skills to make a living in theater. The program has helped develop hundreds of young performers, many of whom Halvorson says are living and acting in New York now.

Proceeds from ticket sales for Next to Normal will be shared between the Youth Repertory Program and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Colorado Springs.

"When we decided to do the concert that deals with this subject matter, we reached out to them, and asked if they were interested," says Halvorson of the benefit aspect. "The issue of mental health in this country is a conversation that we need to continue to have. The conversation needs to be alive. And the piece does not shy away from the reality and the devastating results if [mental illness] goes untreated."

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