Written by Emma Canady. Media by Logan Nelson.
There are very few things in this world that I love more than live theater. The lights, the singing, the drama— the only thing stopping me from being an official Theater Nerd is a voice like a tone deaf, chain smoking hyena and an evidence-riddled hypothesis that I actually have no cerebellum. But none of that can stop me from watching others excel at this breathtaking medium. And, boy, does GC’s Factory Theatre excel at their production of “Next To Normal”!
The Papyrus was lucky enough this week to attend a preview of the theater’s newest show. When we arrived, it was to the cast doing vocal warm-ups and director Jes Adam darting between the booth and the stage, adjusting mic volumes while simultaneously waving hello to us and relaying commands to the TD, Doug Pritchett. By the time they were ready to start the show, I was covered in goosebumps and warning those around me that I might cry.
And cry, I did. Each song was somehow better than the last. The cast and crew work in tandem to build up the world of the Goodman family. For those unfamiliar with “Next To Normal”, this 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning rock drama tells the story of Diana Goodman, a mother who suffers from chronic mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder and depression. Her symptoms take over her life and the musical shows how this illness affects not just her own happiness and life, but the happiness and lives of her family, as well. It touches on themes such as anxiety, depression, grief, suicide, drug abuse, and the ethics of different psychiatric treatments. With jokes that make you laugh out loud, lyrics that make you choke back sobs, and a cast that deposits you in this emotional whirlwind, the Factory Theatre’s “Next To Normal” delivers a tremendous show.
The cast consists of GC Students Emily Gaffner, Silas Groves, and Braiden Oestreich, GC alums Angie Morgan and Richard Beans, and Cory Casburn. Considering the immense talent involved, it shouldn’t have been surprising that each scene leaves the audience more and more emotional and overwhelmed. By the time Morgan begins to belt out the song “You Don’t Know”, a painful little number in the first act that focuses on the loneliness and agony of depression, you can’t imagine the show could get better. Spoiler: it does.
As the story unfolds, it’s impossible not to hope with Henry that his relationship with Natalie will work out; to stress and agonize with Natalie about her upcoming recital; to wish for the best with Dan; to feel Gabe’s palpable presence, even when he’s not singing or speaking at all. Though the heavy story might not touch home to everyone in the audience, the cast easily makes up the difference. You might go to see your roommate or professor, but you’ll stay because the characters, for just a few hours, are as real as you are.
“Next to Normal” runs September 8-10 and 15-17. The doors open at 7 p.m. and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and are available at Jo’s Java, Watson’s Drugstore, Adam Brothers Music and Coffeehouse, or buy calling 618-664-7128.
Check out a few more images here! Photos taken by Anna Brannon, and edited by Logan Nelson.