A small-scale production takes on a comprehensive issue in Theatre NDSU’s performance run of the modern rock musical “Next to Normal.”
Facing the contemporary topics of mental illness and its effects on a family, the six-person show follows the Goodman family – father, mother, daughter and son – as mother Diana’s mental illness puts the family in a crisis. Director Lori Koenig hopes to start a conversation on the reality of mental illness and those living with it.
“This is an excellent choice (of a show) because it is a rock musical about a contemporary issue that is of interest to everyone,” she wrote in an email. “I have spoken with several people who have had similar experiences and they believe this show to be compassionate concerning the illness.”
Through its music, story and an intimate setting of 88 seats in a black box theater, “Next to Normal” offers a different fare than the typical musical. Koenig hopes it gives students and other attendees something to think about. Though the music has been challenging and the story is difficult in spots, Koenig and over 20 students of the cast and crew have come together to offer a unique look into an affective topic.
“Everything about the experience has been wonderful,” Koenig wrote. “I love these students, and the process and the support! The music is fantastic, the story is powerful and the students are so, so talented!”
Cast member Cody Gerszewski, who happened upon the show in 2010, applauds “Next to Normal” for bringing mental illness and other issues to the forefront of the show, tackling topics many people may shy away from.
“What’s also really important is that it’s a musical about strength and about hope,” he said, “and the idea that there will be light, which I think a lot of people … forget about when they themselves or their loved ones are struggling with this issue.”
Those who have experienced similar situations as those covered in the show can find value in the ups and downs of the story, Gerszewski said, as well as those unaffected by mental illness. Discussion about such topics is also made easier in the atmosphere of a musical, particularly with moments of lightness and even humor.
“If you have two hours of solid seriousness about mental illness, you would leave that audience completely drained,” Gerszewski said. “(Writers) Yorkie and Kitt did a really good job of finding moments to lighten the mood and find, sometimes, more of a dark humor in what’s happening. But they find this arc that keeps the audience interested.”
A theme of “there will be light” recurs throughout the production, setting up an ending that offers hope for a story that isn’t necessarily over.
“What this show tells by the end of it is that you can’t always find the happy ending right away, but that doesn’t mean that you’re done,” Gerszewski said. “This isn’t the end of the line just because you haven’t found the storybook end.”
“Next to Normal”
7:30 p.m. Feb. 26-28, March 4-7
NDSU’s Walsh Studio Theatre
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