Artist Spotlight: ‘Next to Normal’ actor Rob Sutton

Rob Sutton

Photo: Laura Marie Duncan

TheatreSquared’s new musical Next to Normal continues this week in Fayetteville.

The show, which our review Tobias Wray called the “best of its breed, in a class with only a few gritty peers” runs through May 12th at Nadine Baum Studios.

Todd Taylor, a third-year University of Arkansas MFA playwright, recently caught up with Rob Sutton, who plays “Dan” in the show for this interview.

You’ve gone from taking your undergraduate degree in music at the university here to playing in blockbuster musicals on Broadway and the Vegas strip, and now you’re back performing in Fayetteville again. Sounds like a wild ride.
It feels very much like a homecoming. I’ve performed in a lot of great shows, but I’d been off the stage for three years, focusing on my photography business in New York. But (director) Amy (Herzberg) called and said she had a part I’d be perfect for. The chance to come back to Fayetteville and work with Amy again–I couldn’t say no.

So she was your teacher when you were an undergrad at the UofA? Has that been a little weird?
Was I nervous? Yes. There were a few insecurities thinking I had to be better than I was twenty years ago, all that nonsense. But once we started working, it really was like no time had passed; it was almost surreal. I’ve always said Amy was the best acting teacher I ever had and one of the best directors. She has an amazing ability to look inside an actor and see their heart and whether they would be a good fit for a role. Her vision is so clear and so specific; she’s just a real joy to work with.

In Vegas, you played in two jukebox musicals, Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You. There’s a sort of musical theatre spectrum with those type of shows on one end–where the music is clearly primary–running to the other end with shows that have a heavier focus on story and character development. Where do you think Next to Normal sits on that spectrum?
When I first heard of this show in New York, I was struck by the fact that it’s about bi-polar disorder, and usually when we think about musical theatre, something lighter comes to mind. But as daunting as that seemed, it’s written so well that it’s been much easier than I would have thought. I really feel they found the best way to tell this story. It’s sung through almost all the way. And the style of music has a rock feel, but it’s very complex, very relatable, very beautiful.

What was the reaction from your friends in the New York theatre community when you told them you were ending your acting hiatus to go back to Arkansas and perform at Theatre2?
New Yorkers can sometimes exist in a little bit of a bubble, and I think a lot of them thought, “Oh, it’s in Arkansas. How can that possibly be good?” But I’ve worked all over the country from regional theatre to summer stock to Vegas and Broadway, and it’s important for me to let people know just how right Theatre2 has it. Their mission, their hearts are in exactly the right place. It’s been the most satisfying experience of my theatrical career.

So this turn in Next to Normal, is this your swan song?
It could be my swan song, or it’s possible it could rejuvenate something in me that makes me want to continue in musical theatre. I’ve got 15 weddings lined up to shoot this summer in New York, so it’s hard to say. My allergies have been going crazy with all this pollen, which is kind of a nightmare for a singer, but other than that, everything about doing this show has been so great. I don’t think I’ve ever bonded with a cast as quickly as I did this one, and, of course, they’re all in love with Fayetteville. And now I get the chance to perform in front of my friends and family. If this is it, I couldn’t pick a better way to go out.