This is the final article of our behind-the-scenes look at McLean Community Players’ production of Next to Norrmal. Today, meet cast members Alex Stone, Catherine Callahan, Nick Dupre, & Quinn McCord.
Alex: My name is Alex Stone and I am playing Henry in the McLean Community Players’ production of Next to Normal. I am a sophomore at McLean High School (MHS) and a proud member of the school’s Madrigals group and Theatrical and Choral Department. I recently played Enjolras in Les Misérables (MHS), Frankie Epps in Parade (The Theatre Lab School of the Performing Arts), and Dickon in The Secret Garden (St. Mark’s Players).
Catherine: Hello! My name is Catherine Callahan; this is my 2nd show with Mclean Community Players after Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat about two years ago.
Nick: My name is Nick DuPre and I play Gabe. My theatre experience includes a few small roles when I was in high school, but I have to admit at 17, I was much more concentrated on chasing the pretty girls in the cast than caring about the intricacies of my performance. This is by far the biggest role I have ever been cast. For my day job, I am a Captain in the greatest Air Force in the world.
Quinn: I was born and raised in Bethesda, MD, and while I’ve done several shows with Montgomery County theatres, my last three shows, including this one, have been with MCP. My favorite roles to date have been those with great melodies for tenors to sing: Jesus in Godspell, Dickon in The Secret Garden, Cornelius in Hello Dolly, and Jack in Into the Woods.
My last two roles at MCP were Gangster #1 in The Drowsy Chaperone and Aaron/Dewey in Legally Blonde the Musical, both at MCP. Those shows had their own challenges, of course, but it’s also true that you’re generally on safer terrain with comedies than dramas. To be clear, those were complex shows too, hardly idiot-proof, and we worked hard to get them into great shape. That said, it’s pretty hard for a musical comedy to land like a lead balloon on a receptive audience, but dramas are a different animal. Creating wacky, fun characters is relatively easy, but for a musical drama like Next to Normal, it’s far more challenging to achieve the level of subtly needed to portray realistic members of a suburban family and the people with which they interact.
Joel: Why did you want to play these roles?
Alex: I wanted this role for a couple of reasons. First, the musical itself is exciting and intriguing to listen to and understand as it unfolds. It would have been a loss to miss the opportunity to audition for a show like this. Second, the music is a challenge and a challenge is always exciting.
Catherine: Natalie is a one of those roles where 50 girls all really want the part. I was just finishing a show and trying to figure out what to do next, and it seemed everyone was doing Next to Normal. I researched the part of Natalie and decided to audition at each theatre doing Next to Normal first at Mclean and I ended up only auditioning for Mclean. I saw that I can relate to Natalie on many levels and went for it.
Nick: My good friend introduced me to Next to Normal two weeks before the audition and I was instantly hooked on the music. She thought Henry suited me and after singing through Perfect for You and Hey #1-3 a few times, I agreed. So when I received a callback I had every intention of trying to play Henry (not even considering Gabe). Then a funny thing happened. During callbacks, Catherine Callahan and Alex Stone sang “Hey #3” together and after watching them sing together for just the first time, I was 99% sure they were it. After seeing the immense talent pool at callbacks, I knew I HAD to be a part of this production somehow. So after the Henry/Natalie auditions, Lisa gave us a quick break and I found a remote stairwell in the MCC and sang (read belted) through Gabe’s rock song, “I’m Alive,” a few times. I was very nervous to sing an unfamiliar song at the top of my range in front of all the talent in the room and breathed a sigh of relief when my voice didn’t crack. So with all that said, I wanted the role of Gabe because I knew Alex had the role Henry already locked down!
Quinn: I’m very methodical in how I choose to audition. I keep tabs on all the theatre websites, looking for shows within their upcoming seasons that I know and enjoy. With shows that I’m unfamiliar with, such as Next to Normal, I usually order a cast album CD and just listen to it for months in my car. When I started listening to Next to Normal, I quickly realized that there were some great pop/rock tenor roles, including two for adult men, and I knew it was a show I would want to go out for.
How do you relate to your character?
Alex: On the surface, Henry and I aren’t very much alike. Yes we both go to high school, but, despite my last name, I am not a Stoner. In addition, I am more energetic whereas Henry is much more chilled. But, Henry has a good heart. We are both determined and care for the people close to us.
Catherine: Natalie is a young girl hoping to just get the heck out of her house. I think most teenage girls feel that way, I recently just moved out of my house for the first time ever. The feeling of wanting to just leave just eats at you. Natalie is also trying to make her life perfect. She feels she lives in the shadow of her “Super Boy” brother. I have 8 brothers and 4 sisters so I can relate to Natalie’s perspective of trying to be perfect and receive attention.
Nick: Personality-wise, I can relate to Gabe’s character very well. I was also happy to learn Gabe played sports because I can definitely get into that aspect of the role. Also, in the show, one of the Gabe’s main traits is the closeness he has with his mother Diana (played by Nicky McDonnell). I can easily relate to that because I am very close with my mom. Nicky plays a great mom for me too due to the fact she looks like she could be my sister, and in real life, my mom is routinely mistaken for my sister…those young genes.
What were some of the challenges you faced learning the your role?
Alex: My main issues with learning the role are turning my energy down a couple of notches and learning how stoners act and smoke. Not something you exactly learn ever day.
Catherine: I think we all have parts of these characters in all of us and letting those parts out can be a challenge. Natalie is mentioned as a freak in the first song. Letting Natalie’s freak out has definitely been challenging. Breaking down the show during the first few rehearsals was a challenge as well. I was not familiar with bipolar depression.
Nick: Four words… “High Tenor 1 Range.”
Quinn: My first challenge is that I actually play two different doctors, Fine and Madden, and without proper precautions, it would be very easy for the audience to end up confused if they just think I’m the same doctor in different clothes. So we’re very deliberately working to ensure that the appearance of the two doctors are quite different, and I’m also focusing on making sure my characterizations vary. Dr. Fine is only in one scene, and I currently view him as something of a car-salesman type doctor. Madden is my primary role, and the challenge with that character is something akin to the one I faced playing Jesus. You don’t want to come across as a lecturing scold, but at the same time, you would undermine the character’s authority by portraying him as a touchy-feely, new-age type who can’t be firm with his guidance.
What is it like working with Director Lisa Anne Bailey?
Alex: From the start of working on Next to Normal, Lisa has made me give my absolute best. She has encouraged me to show my emotions so that the audience better understands Henry’s background and character growth through the show.
Catherine: Lisa is one of the best directors I have worked with. I really feel I understand her vision for the show. It is very beautiful. We have all been able to sit down and talk about our characters in great detail. After all our discussions, I can go through the show and understand why Natalie is doing everything she does, as well as all of the characters. Lisa has an incredible challenge and is doing it justice wonderfully.
Nick: Lisa has been amazing to work with. I owe her so much for the patience she has shown with me throughout this entire process. If the role of Gabe lands on its feet in February it is largely due to the invaluable direction she gives me during every rehearsal. Lisa clearly cares about every single cast member involved in this show. One of the things I like best about Lisa’s way of directing is her openness to offered suggestions coming from the cast members. It makes the creation and tweaking of every scene a true team effort. She would actually make a great Air Force General. I would also pay big money to see that.
Quinn: My first expectation of any director is that he or she has a passion for the property, and isn’t one of those types who simply enjoys directing for directing’s sake. I also think it’s important for any director to avoid the extremes of micro-managing every movement on the stage, or conversely, to just let the actors move around based on their own instincts with no guidance. I appreciate the amount of time Lisa has put into thinking about Next to Normal in the months leading up to the auditions, and the fact that she clearly has firm views on what each scene needs to accomplish, while at the same time encouraging the performers’ tinkering and experimenting during the reheasal process. In the past, I’ve been a bit disappointed when I’ve felt directors knew less about a show or a scene than even I did as a performer, and it’s a relief to have a director and artistic staff who really know the property inside and out, its pitfalls and potential.
What have you learned about yourself as an actor and singer from Lisa?
Alex: I have learned that I am most comfortable playing a character who is full of energy and enthusiasm. Lisa helped me understand that this role calls for a more calm, understanding presence while also helping me achieve that goal. This lower-key presence extends beyond my acting through to the musical phrasing during the songs.
Catherine: By being able to go into great detail about our characters during table talk, it is so much easier to express myself while singing and acting. I have also already learned so much from the other cast members. This cast has excellent, experienced actors from the area that are brilliant role models. As a young person in the theatre area, that is very helpful. Lisa has helped me understand that Natalie has manic moments and is such a perfectionist. She is really guiding me throughout the process of putting the show together.
Nick: I really learned through rehearsals to think about the words I am singing and not just try to sing every song like I am performing a concert.
What were some of the challenges your faced in the space where you are performing the show and what has been your MCP experience?
Alex: My MCP experience has been a blast. Every one in the cast is understanding, cooperative and a full of fun. We all help each other work through the music and any problems we have with the show.
Catherine: Lisa made our space challenges easier by explaining the set and showing us diagrams of where we will be. I really like the Alden Theatre – it is beautiful. I have had a great experience with McLean so far and I always have. It is one of my favorite community theatres to work with because everyone is very nice.
Nick: MCP has been an extremely professional experience. The amount of effort, organization, and coordinating needed to put on a show like this has been truly eye-opening.
Quinn: I like performing at MCP’s Alden Theatre. It’s a legitimate musical theatre performance space, big enough to have an orchestra pit, even if it isn’t always used as such, but at the same time, it’s not one of those cavernous high school auditoriums you sometimes find in MontgomeryCounty. It’s far more comfortable for an audience than, say, an all-purpose room, but at the same time, most of the seats are close enough to the performers to ensure a nice level of intimacy.
Have you ever seen or appeared in a Next to Normal production?
Alex: I saw the National tour at the Kennedy Center. I specifically liked the staging for Gabe – he was very present in scenes, interacting with all the characters while only receiving responses from Diana. An engaged audience member would notice this. This is one example of how the show opened my eyes to unique staging to help tell the story more effectively.
Catherine: I have never seen or been in Next to Normal before. I have listened to the cast CD a few times now though!
Nick: This is my first time.
Quinn: I’ve never seen a professional production of Next to Normal, and my introduction to it was via the original cast album in preparation for my audition. I was basically able to follow the plot, but I assumed there was also a fairly extensive “book” interwoven with the songs. When I finally saw another community theatre production of the show, I was surprised at how little dialogue there actually was connecting the songs. That being the case, it’s vitally important that we ensure that what limited dialogue does exist (and the lyrics) come across crystal clear to the audience, and that our characterizations contribute to the clarity of what’s occurring on-stage at all moments of the show.
What is your character is going through when you sing your songs in the show?
Alex: Although he has all of his issues with being lazy and a stoner, Henry’s “Perfect for You” shows that he is determined to prove to Natalie that he will do what he has to so he can be perfect for her.
Catherine: “Everything Else” is a song Natalie sings while in a practice room of her high school. She is desperately trying to get out of her parents house and graduate early to leave for college. Natalie wants to move on and leave her past behind her. She is a genius at school and on the piano. Natalie wants to “play till its perfect” because she is a perfectionist.
“Perfect for You” is a song that Natalie sings with Henry. Henry is a new friend Natalie has made who may possibly be interested in her. She is having trouble with accepting that someone actually likes her but she likes Henry too, and he helps her get over her trouble.
“Superboy and the Invisible Girl” takes place after Natalie’s mother has completely embarrassed her in front of Henry. Natalie is angry and upset because her brother always comes first in everything. She wants her mother to notice her before she “fades away”.
“Hey 1,2,3” The “Heys” are between Henry and Natalie. Henry is trying to get Natalie to have fun and go to a dance with him. Natalie is harsh and does not want anything to do with a dance, and Henry is really worried about her. Natalie has been taking her mothers pills and is going overboard. Henry really wants to help Natalie.
Nick: The songs Gabe sings really span the spectrum from up-tempo rock to softsational ballad. The songs really show evolution of Gabe and how he views the rest of his family members, and most centrally Diana.
Quinn: I think what we learn from Dr. Madden in his songs is that he never gives up. Indeed, I think his philosophy is pretty well summarized by one of his final lyrics: “Is medicine magic? You know that it’s not. We know it’s not perfect, but it’s what we’ve got. It’s all that we’ve got.” He knows mental illness is a chronic disease this is often not fully cured, just treated. But I don’t think he ever loses his fundamental faith in medical science and that that he can help anyone given enough time and cooperation.
What were some of the challenges you had trying to learn Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s score?
Alex: The score contains some of the hardest harmonies, entrances, rhythm counts and notes I have seen in my theatrical experience. The words themselves were not hard to learn, mainly because I listen to it in every moment I can.
Catherine: There are two books filled with music.There is a little bit of everything in this show. It was definitely a challenge to learn all the tight harmonies and group numbers.
Quinn: Musically, I approached this show with some trepidation, since the music veers into complex six-party harmony on several occasions. I don’t really read music beyond the rudiments, and while I can learn melodies from cast albums, I’m always unsure how quickly I’ll pick up harmonies by ear during the rehearsal process. I recall having a pretty good ear in high school madrigal class, but I’m always a bit worried my ear has degraded in the years since without the benefit of singing on a daily basis. So I’m pleasantly surprised I haven’t fallen behind the other fine member of our cast, and I think we sound pretty good when we’re blending.
What makes this production of Next to Normal unique?
Alex: In the Broadway production, they had three levels and fluorescent lights covering the stage. Our plan is to use the entire space more evenly and with less levels.
What are you doing next on stage?
Alex: Hopefully more theatrical productions at my school.
Catherine: I have no idea! I usually like to focus on the show I am in and then when the show goes up I will take a look at auditions coming up.
Nick: Hmm…Hopefully something.
Quinn: Sometimes I’ll go directly from one show to another, but I’m just as likely to wait a year and a half before I get the itch again. There’s really nothing on my radar screen right now, and for a variety of reasons, it may be quite awhile before I audition for another show. It’s just one more reason why I want to make sure Next to Normal is as great as possible!
What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave MCP after seeing Next to Normal?
Alex: A sense of hope and understanding to those affected by the type of problem Diana has and that in today’s society, we can help and make a difference.
Catherine: I think that audiences should take one family in particular’s struggle and recognize the illness that Diana suffers from. It is important in today’s society that we recognize what is going on and have the urge to help out in any way we can.
Nick: I want audiences to bring their own life experiences to the theater and just see where the story leads them. As Lisa has emphasized from the beginning, this is a story of love and the most spell-binding aspect of this musical is way that almost everyone can relate to a specific theme or character as the story unfolds. Of course, I want audiences enjoy the music, but most of all, I hope they come to Alden Theatre and form their own unique perspective of what this Pulitzer Prize- winning musical is all about.
Quinn: Since the show as written doesn’t offer a neat-and-clean resolution, I think it’s very easy for an audience to leave unsatisfied with the ending. I think it’s our challenge to carefully imbue the final scenes with enough promise and hope that the audience DOES leave satisfied. Moreover, we’re mostly portraying flawed characters, to one extent or another, so we’re also challenged to portray these characters realistically, while at the same time making sure none of them are abrasive to the point where they become unlikable.
Next to Normal begins performances tonight February 1-16, 2013, at The McLean Community Players at The Alden Theatre -1234 Ingleside Avenue, in McLean, VA. For tickets, purchase them online. Tickets may be also be purchased at the Box Office, by calling OvationTix at (866) 811-4111, or calling the Alden Theatre box office at (703) 790-9223. Box Office hours are: Wed & Thur: 5-9 pm Fri & Sat: noon-9 pm.
Part One of ‘Putting Normal Together’ at McLean Community Players’ by Lisa Anne Bailey.
Part Two of ‘Putting Normal Together’: Meet the Cast at McLean Community Players: Brent Stone by Joel Markowitz.
Part Three of Putting Normal Together’: Meet the Cast at McLean Community Players: Nicky McDonnell.