Next to Normal is currently touching hearts in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. We got an opportunity to ask Preston Sadleir, who plays Henry, some questions about his history with the show and the character, and what it’s like to tour through Denver!
We Asked: Next to Normal has caused a huge buzz within the theatre community, but hasn’t quite made it to mainstream infamy (like Wicked, or the recent buzz regarding Spider-Man). Your audiences must be half filled with fans who have been waiting anxiously to see it and half filled with folks who have never heard of it. What’s it like the play to mixed audiences like that?
Well, I think it’s the perfect blend. Having supportive fans and enthusiasts of the show are the reason this tour is happening! The buzz within the theater community has made it possible for us to play nice venues and have top-notch marketing. So, yes it’s great to be a part of a highly anticipated project. Personally, I enjoy the people who are walking in to the show with fresh ears though.
I think it speaks to the strength of the show that regardless of your familiarity with the material it is extremely powerful. It’s powerful because everyone who sees the show has a reference point. We all have families, we all experience grief, we all sense the pain of loss and the beauty of reconciliation. Setting those recognizable human experiences to music makes for an overwhelming theater experience whether it’s your first, or twenty-first time seeing the show.
We Asked: How is performing on a national tour, given all the regional variation around the U.S.? For example, do you take special precautions in Denver because of the altitude, or the dryness, or the cold? Do you take special care of your voice and/or body here?
Call it a genetic advantage, or perhaps just a high tolerance for mountain air, but being from Salt Lake City, Utah seems to be assisting me in the process. I haven’t had to take any special precautions to get through the show but I know that’s not the story for the rest of the company. Hah! No matter where we go we have to be extremely attentive to our bodies. We all travel with steamers/humidifiers, we try and eat healthy, sleep a lot, stay away from alcohol and whatnot. This show is an emotional rock ‘n roll rollercoaster 8 times a week as it is, so when we add the component of traveling it all around the country we have to be extremely vigilant health-monkeys.
We Asked: This tour is different from others because of the outreach events about mental illness, etc. How has that changed your artistic experience?
It feels nice to be a part of something artistic that is so socially relevant as well. Typically in musical theater we come from worlds of flying monkeys and dancing silverware, so to be aligned with something that is present, to some degree, in almost every family out there is really special. Every night when we greet fans at the stage door we hear stories about family struggle and expressions of gratitude for portraying mental illness in a heavy and realistic way. I’m reveling in the experience while it’s here because it’s so satisfying to see this piece influencing and inspiring people deeply. While it always feels nice to have someone compliment you as a dancing spoon… it feels fantastic to hear that someone has really been changed.
The character of Henry was the first frame of reference that I actually had to Next To Normal. I had an actor friend tell me one day, “I just saw this show, Next To Normal and there’s a part in it that’s [ideal] for you.” (I’m learning with every interview to avoid the “Perfect For You” pun. It’s the name of a song I sing in the show.) Anyway, at his suggestion I went and gave the score a listen and did a little research on the show and joined the Tom Kitt fan club right away. He’s insane. It wasn’t until the day before my final callback for this show that I actually went and saw the show, because I wanted my take on it to be independently generated. Theater nerd? Yes. But wow, what a great role! I feel like my job up there every night is to perpetuate hope and light in such a dark and heavy setting. I love singing the songs, and love finding the funny in what Brian Yorkey wrote. I’m having a great time.
We Asked: Many people have drawn parallels between N2N and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which deals with similar issues. You’ve worked with Edward Albee before in Me, Myself and I. Even though your character is outside the central family, do you find that experience has helped you find the right tension in the piece, or informed your performance in any way?
Working with Edward Albee will always be something I consider to be one of the most informative and valuable experiences to me as an actor. Living in the world of one of his plays taught me how to reverence [sic] text and yes, find tension. When discussing his work, he explained to me how he actually hears his plays in his head as music. The way the conflict and dialogue spews out of people’s mouths sounds like a meticulous concerto to Mr. Albee. How cool would that be? What better jump for me to come from that work environment to a show that is indeed a complex piece of music? I thought that it was fantastic preparation and will always be a powerful reference point.
For tickets and more information on Next to Normal, click the banner below. For more information on Preston Sadleir, see his website.