Jane M. Von Bergen’s ‘Theater Beat’ rounds up news, notes, and deals from the Philadelphia region’s theater scene.

Remember the original Young Cosette in Les Misérables on Broadway? Many people heard Donna Vivino sing the orphan girl’s plaintive ballad, Castle on a Cloud, in the cast recording. Vivino, all grown up now, plays the lead character in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s production of the rock musical Next to Normal, Oct. 29 through Nov. 24.

A winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony award, Next to Normal lets the audience watch as Vivino, a mother, struggles with bipolar disorder and shows the effect it has on her family. Music by Tom Kitt; book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Keith Baker directs.

Two thumbs up

Theatre Philadelphia, which administers the annual Barrymore Awards, sends teams drawn from 84 volunteer theater professionals to scout plays in the Philadelphia region early in their run. The volunteers then recommend plays to Barrymore judges for award consideration the next year.

Two current shows just got recommended: The Playboy of the Western World Quintessence Theatre Group, extended through Nov. 2; and Tartuffe, Hedgerow Theatre Co., through Nov. 3.

A lesson in hospitality

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, 38 planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. There, thousands of people of all races, nations, and religions found hospitality and friendship (mostly).

Can we learn from this? Here’s a Philly start: The national touring production of Come From Away earned a standing ovation on opening night at the Academy of Music. It runs through Nov. 3.

Oh, to be 13

It’s been a minute since Suli Holum, 41, was in the throes of adolescence, but, luckily, Holum, who plays 13-year-old Ashlee in Dance Nation at the Wilma Theater, got expert coaching from her 12-year-old daughter, Coralie Lyford, a seventh grader.

“She’s keeping me honest,” said Holum.

Holum said she’s handled very vulnerable roles in the past — “pain, loss, big scary stuff,” but “playing a 13-year-old girl simply and honestly put me right back in touch with what was easily the most vulnerable moment in my life, that transition from little kid-ness to teenage girl-ness.

“You are awakening to your own sexuality which is so complicated, overwhelming, exciting, and confusing,” she said. “You are awakening to the power of the adult woman that you are going to become.”

Actress Suli Holum in rehearsal for "Dance Nation" at the Wilma Theater.
Bill D'Agostino
Actress Suli Holum in rehearsal for "Dance Nation" at the Wilma Theater.

Dance Nation (through Nov. 10) portrays a competitive dance troupe vying for a national trophy. Most of the characters are about 13 years old, played by women in their 20s to 50s. Mostly, they play their roles as teenagers, but sometimes they play as adults, with lessons across generations.

“The play holds the weight of experience,” Holum said, describing Dance Nation as “unapologetically raunchy feminism.” (The Wilma advises on its web site that the play contains mature content; the theater says it’s generally recommended for ages 15 and older.)

So how does a 41-year-old Generation X-er portray a teenager?

“Cuteness is death,” Holum said, quoting playwright Clare Barron. “She challenged us to avoid playing at 13-year-olds. This is not a trope about Mean Girls.” (Although Holman wants her daughter to see the Tina Fey musical at the Academy of Music, Nov. 19-Dec. 1, just for the contrast.)

Holum said she will likely take Coralie to see Dance Nation, but only after they read the script together to make sure she can handle the emotions.

An actor’s life

Holum keeps busy. When Dance Nation finishes, she moves to Theatre Exile, where she plays a liberal professor in a one-woman show about gun violence. On the Exhale runs Nov. 29 through Dec. 22.

On her own list of shows to see: Bebe Neuwirth in A Small Fire at Philadelphia Theatre Co.: “I’ve always loved her," Holum says. "It’s a physical performance, so as a physical theater person I’m interested.” A Small Fire runs through Nov. 10.