By Jordan Norkus
Arts & Entertainment Editor
“Day after day, we’ll find the will to find our way, knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.”
Sacred Heart University’s Theatre Arts Program will be bringing the American rock musical, “Next to Normal,” to the Little Theatre stage starting on Thursday, Nov. 2.
With book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, “Next to Normal” follows the story of a family coping with crisis and mental illness.
“It shows, at great lengths, how different people deal with not just their problems, but others’ as well.” said sophomore Justin Weigel, who plays Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden. “The show is about a real family with real problems and common themes that will resonate with everybody.”
The show explores the struggles behind a “perfect loving family:” a mother, father, daughter and son who are all searching for something different.
“Each character is important in telling the story, and with a sensitive subject like mental illness, the cast really banded together to form this family [in order to]portray the characters as best as we could,” said senior Chris Faccenda, who plays Henry in the production.
The mother, Diana, played by senior Julia Vezza, suffers from manic depression… “but that doesn’t totally cover it.”
“Something I’ve learned from playing this character is to put yourself first,” said Vezza. “You need to love yourself before you can love anyone else.”
Directed by Executive Director of the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, Jerry Goehring, cast and crew members said the rehearsal process has been long and arduous, but extremely rewarding. The day after the show was cast, they had their first rehearsal and have been preparing ever since.
“Recent rehearsals have been every day for almost eight hours a day, but we need it to make the show live up to the potential that it has,” said sophomore Delaney Lynch, who plays Natalie. “They are long and sometimes tiring, but in the end, to portray a story like this, I have a feeling it will all be worth it.”
In order for the cast to fully grasp the material, they had to get used to leaving their comfort zones.
“The experience of this show has been wildly intimate and immersive,” said Weigel. “We’ve all gotten so close as a cast and comfortable enough to open up to each other, creating an environment where it’s okay to go to those places and dive into the material.”
The sensitive subjects came with some challenges for the cast; which included portraying everything as accurately and correctly as they could.
“It’s so raw and so real,” said Weigel. “It’s a real struggle to put yourself out there—to put everything you have out on stage and open yourself up to an audience, knowing that you’re nothing but vulnerable. It’s very unsettling and tough to do.”
For some cast members, the hardest part of the whole experience was disconnecting themselves from their characters after run-throughs of the show.
“[The challenges] relate to playing characters dealing with these mental illnesses and the stress it places on the family,” said junior Mike Villanueva, who plays Gabe. “It’s hard to really face that, day in and day out, because it’s not always easy to leave those emotions at rehearsal.”
The cast and crew believe that there are different messages within the show that audience members can take away from after seeing it.
“It’s a really powerful story that’ll hopefully show just how important this topic is,” said Villanueva. “[It’s] about taking the time to be healthy, mentally. For some, it may be to listen to those calling for help.”
The finale of the show is called “Light.” All of the cast members agreed that a sense of light and hope is the ultimate message behind the show.
“‘When our long night is done, there will be light’ is a line that Dan says in the show. I think that it summarizes the lives of every character and speaks to us, as people, in general,” said junior Henley Solomon, who plays Dan. “No matter how hard things get, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and the hope to see another day.”
A week before it even opened, every performance of “Next to Normal” was sold out. This was a first for the Theatre Arts Program, resulting in having to add two additional Saturday matinee performances.
“When I found out that we sold out before we even got into tech week, my stomach dropped,” said Lynch. “I was both happy and immediately nervous knowing that no matter what, the audiences will all be filled, wanting to get a story and we would have give that to them.”
Through two acts and 37 songs, the cast and crew of “Next to Normal” will take audience members on a journey full of discovery, grief, endurance, love and sacrifice.
“The audience will not be ready for the amount of raw emotion that will be poured out on that stage,” said Lynch. “It’s going to be an amazing, tear-jerking experience filled ultimately with love and hope.”
“Next to Normal” opens on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. in the Little Theatre. Additional performances will be held Nov. 3 through Nov. 5 and Nov. 9 through Nov. 12. Thursday, Friday and Saturday night showings begin at 8 p.m., Saturday matinees are at 2 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m.