Fernandez, whose Broadway resume also boasts The Drowsy Chaperone, Swing!, Tom Sawyer, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Beauty and the Beast, is featured in a cast that includes Mike Backes as Gabe, Leo Daignault as Dan, Ashley Picciallo as Natalie, James LaRosa as Henry and Scott Guthrie as Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine. Richard Hopkins directs.
The singing actress recently told Playbill.com, "[I have] had my eye on doing this play — as so many of my contemporaries have — since it opened on Broadway. I remember sitting in the tenth row with my brain ticking about what it must feel like to be inside this character. Alice [Ripley, who won a Tony Award for her Broadway performance], of course, was and is amazing, and the inspiration and desire [to play the role] was firmly planted."
Fernandez said she had auditioned to stand by for Ripley on Broadway, and although she didn't land that position, she did receive a few callbacks. "I then set my sights on playing Diana in the regions and was lucky enough to book the second [regional production] to come about," Fernandez explained.
Fernandez, who will continue in the role through Jan. 7, 2012, said the first challenge of playing Diana "was figuring her out vocally. They don't have an understudy for me down here, so I wanted to make sure that my technique for this role was in place — eight shows a week isn't peanuts!"
She was also concerned with telling her character's story as truthfully as possible. "I started by reading as much as I could about this particular disorder, talking to people online who suffer from this disorder and figuring out that honestly," Fernandez said. "The way to find Diana is to find out how Stacia would be if she had bipolar manic depressive disorder or schizopressive disorder. It is, has been and will continue to be a very interesting learning experience. I am taking part in a community program here in Sarasota through an online discussion with the mental health community and people dealing with all kinds of issues. Who knows what I will learn and bring to the stage from them? They are a brave community willing to share their experience, and I want to honor them by being truthful onstage. Our director Richard Hopkins has been great in filtering this information as well as his associate Kate Alexander." She added, "I think this experience will change who I am as an actress. It already has, and I look forward to continuing to learn lessons from this brilliant play, cast and character that Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey created."
For more information about the Florida Studio Theatre's production of Next to Normal, click here.
Fernandez will return to Broadway's Mamma Mia! Jan. 25, 2012.