Nothing ‘Normal’ here

Chris Alderete wasn’t the same after seeing “Next to Normal” on Broadway.

It was the first show to evoke an emotional response from him — the first show to, he said, capture him.

“It really affected me when I saw it. Ever since then, it’s been a show I wanted to bring to this island,” the Kalaheo man said. “It took me two years. Now that I have the opportunity, I’ve got to throw everything I have into it.”

The 28-year-old is making his directorial debut with the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical set to open July 23 at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse. So he’s not just thinking about it during the eight weeks of rehearsals, but pretty much all the time.

“It’s literally on my mind 24/7,” Alderete said, smiling. “I’ve been eating, sleeping and drinking the show for the past two months. It’s nonstop. I’m driving in car without the radio on because the songs of the show are playing in my head. I don’t even realize I don’t have the radio on.”

The music, the script and the cast promise many unforgettable evenings during the its run to Aug. 9.

“It’s beautiful the way it is, the transition from song to scene,” he said. “It’s a dance. The whole show is a mix that literally flows so beautifully together. It’s so nice.”

Next to Normal was written by Brian Yorkey and music is by Tom Kitt.

The cast features Cathy Miner as Diana, the mother; Thom Newman as Dan, the father; Brittany Cerra as Natalie, the daughter; Nick Bushkar, as Gabe, the son; Kameron Fort as Henry and Steve Whitney as Dr. Madden.

The production is being put on by Hawaii Children’s Theater After Dark program, which offers opportunites for actors to have summer roles in plays of more mature content.

The story of Next to Normal isn’t the stuff of fluff and fun. The subject matter — a family struggling with many issues, including dealing with mental illness — can be difficult for the cast to portray and the audience to watch. It can be painful but it can unveil truths that have been pushed below the surface and out of mind. It highlights areas that perhaps families avoid.

“The things that the family are dealing with in the show are things that people can relate to,” Alderete said.

While there’s a lot of darkness in the world they are living in, there is light. In fact, the final song of the song is titled, “Light.’

“It comes down to them finding hope,” he said.

Newman said he was “blown away” by the moving story behind Next to Normal and feels privileged to play the role of the father.

“Regardeless of how we get there, the dynamics that a lot of people feel in their own families, they may recognize in different characters,” he said.

Miner said the word “empathy” kept coming to her as story unfolds.

“I think it’s incredible cathartic to work through the characters and their stories,” she said.

Brittany Cerra said a musical like this one isn’t just a matter of singing songs and trying to elicit laughs.

“We have the challenge of representing something that is real and painful,” she said. “It’s not the easiest thing to do.”

Bushkar, who happens to be Cerra’s boyfriend in real life, saw Next to Normal in New York and it hit him hard.

“It’s the only show I saw on broadway where I was just crying my eyes out,” he said.

Alderete, who hs called Kauai home since he was 5 years old, is a seasoned actor. He had roles on Kauai in “Prodigal Father,” “Avenue Q,” and “Les Miserable,” and has performed in New York and Los Angeles over the past decades.

He’s worked with amazing directors and terrible ones, too. He plans to take his perspective as an actor — take what he’s learned on stage — and put it to use off-stage.

“I feel like I’m approaching it as an actor to how I would want to be directed,” Alderete said.

The transition from acting to directing has been smooth. He loves the creativity and vision of directing.

“I feel like I’ve taken the qualities that I need to actually succeed at this,” he said. “I feel like I found a profound passion for directing. It’s very, very exciting.”

He considers Arnold Meister of Kauai one of his strongest influences in theater. Growing up, Alderete watched Meister’s shows and later performed in some of them.

“He’s always been a constant voice of encouragement in my life,” Alderete said.

Alderete, a concierge at the Grand Hyatt, is confident the cast for Next to Normal will deliver great performances.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel like the luckiest guy ever to have the cast that I do.”

He said those coming to Next to Door should be prepared for a gripping, life-changing musical.

“It’s going to affect people,” he said. “The show will. It’s a given.”

Next to Normal runs July 23 to Aug. 9, Thursdays through Sundays, at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse. Shows start at 7 each night. General admission is $25. Students and seniors, $20.

Info: hawaiichildrenstheatre.org, 246-8985

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