Guest columnist

The play’s the thing. So are the people who see it.

I am no theatre person, as the real-deals throughout Brevard County undoubtedly are tired of hearing, but have a pretty good idea of how to produce other types of material and why. In my case, “why” is the reader; I don’t work for a newspaper, magazines or websites, but for the people who read them.

So too, one should think, the people who select, direct, do the technical things and act in the plays, musical and otherwise, that you see on stages from Titusville to downtown Melbourne. Last week, which started with “Hands on a Hardbody” at the Henegar Center in Melbourne and ended with “Next to Normal” at the Titusville Playhouse, point was made ever so clear.

Alexander Browne and Natalie Palmer in Titusville Playhouse's production of NEXT TO NORMAL. Photo by Niko Stamos.

Alexander Browne and Natalie Palmer in Titusville Playhouse’s production of NEXT TO NORMAL. Photo by Niko Stamos.

These musicals are audience-pleasers, not because they get the people clapping in their seats and singing along to “Do-Re-Mi,” but because they get us laughing, feeling, wondering, thinking every step of the way.

They do so because they are smart. They do so because the people doing them are smart. They do not underestimate the intelligence of their audiences, ever.

It is abundantly clear from the start of each that the actors and directors have stakes in these shows, because the performances are exquisite. Normally, when you critique a show, you dance around some bed of roses because some aspect of it is weak. In this case, it’s hard to get in everything that’s strong.

I see these shows with a guy who could have been a theater major as easily as a psychologist, one of those people sees everything in Orlando on opening night and who flies to New York to see six or seven shows in a long weekend. That he hasn’t yet seen “Dear Evan Hansen” and “War Paint” is killing him. It will happen.

From the Henegar's HANDS ON A HARDBODY. Photo by Dana Niemeier.

From the Henegar’s HANDS ON A HARDBODY. Photo by Dana Niemeier.

Anyway, last week we were joking about play ratings. If after the play, you simply groan in the lobby and then make dinner plans, it’s a loser. If the conversation goes from the lobby to the drive home, it’s okay. If the conversation starts in the lobby, continues on the way home and gets revisited the next day, this was a show. And if you’re still talking about it a week later, you had a special experience.

That’s the way “Hardbody” was; we were talking about it during the pre-“Next to Normal” dinner nearly a week after we saw it. Now we can’t get “Normal” out of our heads because it too was that good.

Truth be told, we haven’t gone to too many groaners the last few years. Most other locally staged shows were at least good; some, very good. These two were perfect, or close to it.

We hear more of the same may be ahead with Melbourne Civic Theatre’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” too. We’ll go for the trifecta next week.

The point is that extraordinary theatre, often innovative and sometimes risk-taking – no, I do not mean “salacious” or “political” — presented by intelligent directors and dedicated actors, takes place on stages here, for $28 per show, top rate.