El Paso Community College Theater Ensemble presents “Next to Normal,” a rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt.
The musical was guest directed by Mike Backes who is an experienced director and performer. Some of his directing works include “Into the Woods” at Connecticut State University, “Rent” at the Squarefoot Theater as well as “Rock of Ages” as well.
"Next to Normal", this year's summer ensemble ran from July 5-22.
COURTESY NICHOLAS NIEDER
His performances include “Next to Normal” as Gabe at the Florida Studio Theater, American tour of “Footloose” as Ren, and many tours with Shades of Buble and Broadway Boys.
The musical ran from July 5 to July 22 at the EPCC Transmountian Campus Forum Theater and is about an hour and a half almost pushing two hours.
The story centers around a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disease and the effects that her illness and its management have had on her family.
The musical begins with an introduction to the family, the audience first meets Diana the mom and her son Gabe.
Then we meet Dan, Diana’s husband then Natalie their daughter. All four characters are present all throughout the story and are equally essential to the plot.
“This has been a wonderful experience. Before this, all I had done before were high school shows. So, this is actually my first show in about three years. Coming into this was an amazing experience. The Cast was great. Our director is from out of town he is actually a New York professional actor that is now coming into directing. He really helped us,” said Nicholas Nieder, a student at EPCC who plays Henry as his primary role and Dr. Fine as his secondary role.
“Next to Normal” wasn’t the theater’s first choice but ended up becoming the Summer ensemble. “It switched first from “Rock of Ages” and then they wanted to do “Footloose” and that fell through as well.
Finally, we were able to get this, and I am actually very glad they did because the message is deeper and can connect with so many more people,” said Nieder.
At the July 21 show, there were roughly twenty people who showed up to watch the performance. One audience member, Joe Zimmerly, took away some life lessons from the musical.
“The message I got from the play is that family is important. You have to live in the now and not dwell in the past. Things happen for a reason and make you who you are. Take the time to love those around you while you have time is a present theme throughout the whole play. I also learned that healing longer takes for some than others, in this instance the mom’s grieving process never came to an end,” said Zimmerly.
The songs in this musical are not the typical light and happy-go-lucky type but rather dark and rather grim in content.
They are not the type to get the audience in a singing and dancing kind of mood.“They brought light to many real-life issues that many people face on a daily basis. I wouldn’t say this play is good for all ages. The language was vulgar and crude and the content is mature and close to rated R. I think they used such strong and mature content to get the message of the story across,” said Zimmerly.
“This isn’t a normal musical. It is very different from what people are used to. This is not a happy fluffy musical. It deals with a lot of important issues that people don’t like to talk about and has a very huge message to deliver,” expressed Nieder.
The performance didn’t bother much with set changes and complete stage props but rather utilized projections and abstract archways to create a sense of space and give the audience a different visual experience.
As the locations of the scenes changed so did the projections. “The set is very abstract. We wanted to keep it as abstract as possible because the story we tell can happen anywhere to anyone. It is somewhat of a house set but we use projections to give you a sense of what is happening,” explained Nieder.
“The projections gave each scene their own feel. When she was at the treatment center we saw padded walls. When Natalie was plain the piano at school, the projections made where she was clear,” explained Zimmerly.
The cast of seven is mainly made up if UTEP Students as well as EPCC students and citizens of the community. The cast includes Rachel Robins as Diana, Hugo Arreola as Gabe, Anthony Michael Stokes as Dan, Nichole Hardgrove as Natalie, Nicholas Nieder as Henry, Benjamin Ontiveros as Dr. Fine and Cristina Zermeno as Dr. Madden.
“Natalie was my favorite character because she remained strong for 16 years, most of her life, dealing with her mom’s illness and always coming in second place to an imaginary being. I feel that Rachel Robins portrayed her character as Diana the best. I was truly convinced that she was suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia,” said Zimmerly.
The Forum Theater is constantly putting on productions and having auditions. For more information about upcoming shows and how to audition call (915) 831-5056