Two years is a long time to wait to put on a show, but that’s exactly what the cast of “Next to Normal” has done.
After having the musical shut down in the spring of 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire original cast has returned for a reprisal of the show, which will open Friday, Feb. 11 at the Evergreen Playhouse.
The 2008 American rock musical tells the story of married couple Diana (portrayed by Nicole Galyean) and Dan (portrayed by Rich Garrett) and their kids, Gabe (portrayed by Kameron Bustetter) and Natalie (portrayed by Amanda Copeland). They are the typical suburban family and they are also living with the challenge that Diana has been living with bipolar disorder for many years. Through the story, the audience also sees Diana’s interactions with her doctor Dr. Fine/Madden (portrayed by Bruce Haas). When Natalie, who feels forgotten by her mother next to her favored brother, meets Henry (portrayed by Austin Bennett) she begins to see her life in a new light.
“It’s a really interesting show because it centers around mental health,” director Matthew Michael said. “It really shows the dynamic of a family that is spiraling with their mother through these things.”
When it debuted in 2008, “Next to Normal” was very unusual compared to the top grossing Broadway shows of the same year, which included “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Jersey Boys.” But Michael said its minimalistic set, rock anthems and focus on mental health issues made it a catalyst that changed what American musicals could look like and the subject matters they could address.
“I really think it changed the face of musicals. Like, we really can do a show about this,” Michael said.
The show originally opened at the Evergreen Playhouse in the spring of 2020 and was able to be open for one weekend before the COVID-19 pandemic shut theaters across the nation. What was hoped to be a short shut down eventually stretched into months and then years. Michael said he kept in contact with the cast members, all of whom indicated that if the Evergreen Playhouse ever opted to bring the show back, they would be willing to reprise their roles.
And two years later, the entire original cast has returned for their second try. Michael said he was grateful to be able to bring “Next to Normal” back to the Evergreen stage and humbled that the cast members wanted to work on the project again together. One of the benefits of a second try at this show, Michael said, is that the cast came in already knowing all of the music and lines, so they have been able to focus their rehearsals on really exploring the characters and bringing them to life.
“Last time, I was not able to deep dive into the characters with them. We didn’t have the time,” Michael said. “This time, it’s been nice to talk to them about that.”
The Evergreen Playhouse took the industry standard step this year of requiring all cast and crew to be vaccinated and to socially distance and mask as much as possible. During performances, cast members will be unmasked but until then, the playhouse board is requiring masking, social distancing and limiting those in and out of the building during rehearsals to the 10 members of the cast and crew. Michael said it makes rehearsing such a dramatic musical more challenging but is necessary to give them the best shot at getting to have a full run for their show this time.
“We’re doing everything we can to stay safe,” Michael said. “We’re just trying to be extra diligent.”
All audience members at “Next to Normal” will also be required to show proof of vaccination upon arrival and to wear masks at all times except when actively eating and drinking.
Because of light drug use, subjects of suicide and death and strong language, “Next to Normal” may not be suitable for young audience members.
If You Go …
What: Evergreen Playhouse presents “Next to Normal”
When: Feb. 11-27, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Evergreen Playhouse, 226 West Center St., Centralia
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 students/seniors. Special “pay-what-you-can” artist benefit 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17.
Info: Tickets can be purchased at Evergreenplayhouse.com. Proof of vaccination and masking is required of all attendees. Pre-purchase of tickets recommended because of social distancing requirements in the theater.