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'Next to Normal' is up next for Company Carolina and Pauper Players

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Members of the cast from 'Next to Normal' rehearse at Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

For over two decades, Pauper Players and Company Carolina have provided students the opportunity to participate in every aspect of theater production.

Pauper Players produces a student-run musical every fall and spring. This year, the group is collaborating with Company Carolina on its spring musical.

On Friday, students will begin performances of their version of “Next to Normal,” a musical about a mother with bipolar disorder and the impact her illness has on her and her family. The 2008 musical's book and lyrics are by Brian Yorkey, with music by Tom Kitt. 

The show will debut at the Varsity Theatre and run a total of four shows between March 24 and March 26. The production is made up of only six actors and 15 crew members. 

Emma Clements, a senior and producer, said the meaning behind the musical’s title poses questions about family relationships. 

“There's kind of a through line of ‘Is there such a thing as ‘normal’ as far as families go?’” she said. “Sometimes, 'Next to Normal' is the best thing that you can get, and it’s the best thing for your family, and there truly is no normal family.”  

Clements said the musical was selected last summer and rehearsals have been going on since auditions were held in January. The groups chose "Next to Normal" because of the musical's focus on mental health, she said.

“There's a big emphasis in the show that we should take care of ourselves and seek help, but we should also be allowed to embrace our emotions and how we feel and all of those things are also valid,” she said. 

Victoria Danielik, a senior and assistant director, said adjustments had to be made to the set due to the venue, but that it allowed for more creativity in set and lighting design. 

“We don't have the normal lighting capacity that we have and our set design is very minimal,” she said. “However, I think that highlights the message of the play and we were able to play with color.”  

Maggie Albert, a senior who plays the character of Natalie, said she auditioned for the role because she liked the character’s songs and wanted to play the romantic lead. Albert said the musical contains 38 songs in total, of which she sings 15. 

“The cool thing about this musical is that I would say there's more songs than dialogue so it definitely is vocally demanding,” she said. 

In addition to solo performances, Albert said when the whole cast sings together it signifies moments of “chaos” in the show, which helps develop the plot. 

“I'm excited for people to see this amalgamation of creativity and talent that we're going to be putting on,” she said. 

Danielik said the musical is amazing because of the cast, as they bring her to tears every time she sees them perform. She added that being able to direct parts of the musical by herself gave her the opportunity to showcase her unique ideas.

“Seeing a vision from your brain come to life — it's unlike anything I've ever experienced,” she said.

Danielik said she hopes this performance makes people with mental illness feel more understood. 

“I hope that seeing somebody going through those struggles helps to humanize them and they bring that into their day-to-day life and learn to interact with people in a more kind and loving way,” she said.

Albert said this musical provides a different perspective on dealing with trauma and spreads a message that it is okay to ask for help. 

Clements wants the musical to inspire the audience and spark conversations about mental health in the community.  

“We want to put a big emphasis on reminding people that they matter, their health care matters and their mental health care model matters,” she said. “And that there is hope.”

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Tickets can be purchased online or in the Pit. They are $8 for students and $12 for adults. 

Editor's Note: Morgan Brenner, who plays Diana in "Next to Normal" and is featured in the photo above, is a staff member on the Audience Engagement Eesk of The Daily Tar Heel.

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