It's not often that a director shares his feelings about a new production, but Julian Wiles, director of Charleston Stage, is so moved by the play "Next to Normal" that he sent along his notes on it.

The Pulitzer-winning play is something special, and Wiles describes it best.

"Sometimes I think the very best plays, movies, books and stories are the hardest to describe to someone. 'What's it about?' friends ask, and we try to tell them and we're at a loss," he says.

He thinks it's unique, saying, "It's a musical, but not a bubbly tap-dancing musical. It has romance, but it's not a romantic comedy. It has its mysteries, but it's not a mystery. It has rock music, but it's not a rock concert. You just have to see it."

And that's from the director who has to decipher the musical so it makes sense to his crew.

"Next to Normal" was originally a short musical about a woman undergoing ECT or electroconvulsive therapy, that grew into a production that was more about a family's struggle with illness, and the emotions the musical evokes are universal.

According to Wiles, "Along the way, one of the most original and imaginative musicals ever came into being, a unique show that proved that musicals don't have to be light and fluffy but can take on serious themes. Audiences were moved, the critics raved and 'Next to Normal' won the Pulitzer Prize, an accolade rarely bestowed on musicals."

It sounds like once again Charleston Stage is bringing a thoughtfully interpreted play to the stage, and they are also doing something more unusual.

They are having talkbacks after the matinee performances on Feb. 23 and March 2 with mental health professionals from MUSC. The company feels it's important to help spread the word on how the community can get help if they know someone struggling with depression and mental health issues.

It's not often that our actors mix their art with activism, so this will be an interesting mix of understanding something new about mental illness through the play and then hearing from professionals after the lights are on but not before the magic has faded.

"Next to Normal" starts Friday at the Dock Street Theatre and runs through March 2. Tickets are $38.50-$57.50, with senior, military and student discounts available. For more info and to order by phone, call 843-577-7183.

Music Fest

Looking for a romantic date night? The College of Charleston presents the second of three Charleston Music Fest concerts at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Simons Center Recital Hall.

The program, called "Songs of Love and Doom," features music by Brahms and Shostakovich sung by soprano Deanna McBroom, who is on the college's voice faculty.

McBroom will be joined by Charleston Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker, Music Fest co-founder and cellist Natalia Khoma and pianist-teacher Volodymyr Vynnytsky.

The evening of art songs and chamber music will celebrate love.

The Charleston Music Fest will conclude April 22 with a program of chamber music by Handel-Halvorsen, Tchaikovsky and Chausson.

The performance is at the Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St.

Tickets are $30 and can be pre-ordered by calling 953-6575 or by visiting go.cofc.edu/cmf.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or sharvin@postandcourier.com.