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The musical play “Next to Normal” will come to the end of its run at the Ziegfield Theater this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. —an encore performance because the production has been so successful.
“None of us has had as cathartic and transforming experience as this,” said WSU senior Rick Rea, director of the production.
Rea is also artistic director at the Ziegfeld, which opened last June. Rea, a native Utahn who hails from American Fork, runs the theater in collaboration with friends from his early days at Western Wyoming College, Caleb and Morgan Parry. The Parrys purchased the theater, which is now moving toward being a nonprofit organization.
The theater opened its season with four family-oriented musicals because, as Rea put it, “from the beginning, we knew (that), to survive, we had to look at our audience.” Rea said he wanted to start 2013 with a show that gave the community an idea of what different kinds of material are out there, that “gave us something edgier, riskier, but not for its own sake. We have a responsibility to demand excellence, to give something that can improve lives.”
Though it might not be usual musical fare, Rea acknowledged the show is still accessible, and despite what might be considered occasional shocking language, “there has not been one complaint.” Instead, people have left the theater and been in the lobby “in tears, hugging, and leaving changed. I cannot tell you how many hugs I’ve gotten from friends and strangers.”
The play involves a mental disorder arising within a family. All cast members are either current WSU students or alumni: Aaron Cole as the father, Dan; Luke Monday as son Gabe; Emilie Starr as mother Diana; Jenessa Bowen as daughter Natalie; Jason Baldwin as the daughter’s boyfriend, Henry; and Austin Archer in a dual role as psychiatrists Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden.
Bowen plays the overachieving but neglected daughter against Starr’s performance as Diana, the bipolar mother.
“This music is probably the most incredible music I’ve ever heard,” Bowen said. “It’s just stunning.” The music is eclectic, including rock, pop, country, folk, classical Broadway, jazz and even some Mozart.
“The vocals are challenging,” Starr said, “. . . (but) if you can’t handle the sad things, just come and listen to the music because it is so good. For us actors, it’s actor candy.”
Rea said the cast “is accustomed to comedy, with experience in improv. They’re incredibly intuitive. They are putting the characters inside themselves and asking them questions, getting mad at them for their choices. Theater isn’t like other art forms; it only lives once you bring it to life.”
This goes hand in hand with the Ziegfeld’s mission statement and a maxim: “Yes, and,” understood in improv to help “the actors say yes to each other and our audience,” Rea said.
The musical is a nominee of 11 Tony Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Rea indicated it’s a feel-good musical, but that the show takes the audience on a bit of trip to arrive there.
“If you want to feel good, you have to ride a roller-coaster through every other emotion to get you there.”
Starr recommended bringing a box of Kleenex.
“We tripled our audience in one night,” she said. “I’ve never had an audience respond to a show like this one. My Facebook has blown up and I’m hearing how the show has impacted them. It’s about hope and hoping, because nobody asks for this (the play’s subject) to happen to them.”