Midland play is anything but normal

By Jack Rechsteiner, managing editor.

Local theater troupe, Passion Theatre, brought a Pulitzer Prize–winning play to Midland and gave a performance that showed exactly why “Next to Normal” deserved the award.

“‘Next to Normal’ has been our dream show for this group since I was 16. We finally decided to go through with it, and it has been the most difficult, educational and rewarding experience,” says Aidan Montgomery, founder and director of Passion Theatre.

“Next to Normal” is a modern musical that has been said to have “expanded the scope of subject matter for musicals.” The play is focused around the struggles of a family dealing with mental illness and the difficulties that come along with it, like grief, suicide, drug abuse, medical ethics and the hidden troubles of residential life.

“This show has been the most successful for Passion Theatre. The turnout for all the shows has been above what we hoped for. There have been verbal sobs every night, which has been a personal victory for me. All the feedback has been phenomenal, so many people have said they’ve been impacted by the show,” says Montgomery.

The musical was brought to by life by a small but talented production team. The cast was made up of six local thespians who had spent a total of six weeks working together from first rehearsal to the opening night of the show. The musical numbers spanned genres from operatic love ballads to fast rock songs that grappled with depression with the brilliant execution from the live pit orchestra setting the tone for them.

“The progress that these people have made, from first rehearsal to now, is astounding. There were times I wasn’t sure we could pull this off, because it’s a big production for a local theater troupe. Now I’m watching them and sobbing through the second act because of how they were able to take the raw, emotional dynamic of this family and bring it life. It’s so powerful,” says Wren Hayes, interim stage director.

The stage set was purposefully minimal to concentrate the audience’s focus on the passionate performances given by the cast and the relationships between their characters. The different ways that the stage director utilized the sparse set to create a wide array of settings was a masterclass example of “less is more.” The play’s emotional intensity along with its emphasis on the friction and dynamics of a group of people was reminiscent of works from playwrights such as Raymond Carver or Arthur Miller.

“It’s been a life-changing experience. I’ve never been in a play that manages to portray such a serious and relatable topic in such an effective way,” says Alena Ramos, one of the cast members of the show.

Saturday, Feb. 10 was the last night of the weekend-long run of shows for the production, and the auditorium was near capacity with attendees filling the seats. Over 100 tickets were sold, and Passion Theatre’s final performance of the weekend received a standing ovation from cheering audience members.

“I’ve never had this many good things to say about a local theater production. It blew me away, it was an incredible performance,” says showgoer Amanda Thomas.

The Passion Theatre Group will be showing its next production “Suburbia” on April 27 and 28 later this year. You can find more information on those shows and Passion Theatre online at PassionTheatre.com, on Facebook (@passiontheatre) and on Instagram at (passion.theatre.)

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