CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- FestivALL kicks off this weekend with three plays by three local theater companies.
Thursday evening, the Contemporary Youth Arts Company reprises "Norman Rockwell's American Paradise" at the Capitol Center Theater on Summers Street. On Friday, the Charleston Light Opera Guild opens "Next To Normal" at the Civic Center Little Theater while the Kanawha Players begin their run of "Our Lady of 121st Street" at their theater on the East End.
Sallie Daugherty, who directs the Charleston Light Opera Guild show, acknowledged that there is a lot for theater fans to see over the next 11 days, but added her company was focusing on "the new."
"What we have this year is a fairly new show to Broadway," Daugherty said. "It hasn't been seen by a lot of people, but it's got incredible music."
"Next to Normal" is a critically acclaimed 2009 rock opera that deals with the subject of mental illness. It was nominated for 11 Tony awards that year and won three, including best score and best orchestration; it also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010.
"It's a show about family life and what is normal," Daugherty said. "I think it's the kind of story that will resonate with people with families who have lives where everything on the surface looks perfect, but below that -- well, they have problems, too."
The show is built around the performances of WomanSong's Emily Capece and local favorite Ryan Hardiman.
"It's a show for people who like music," Daugherty said, emphatically adding, "It's not to be missed."
Katonya Hart, director of the Kanawha Players production of "Our Lady of 121st Street," said she would be OK if a few people missed the show. It's really not intended for every audience.
"'Our Lady of 121st Street' is an adult comedy with a very urban feel to it," she said. "We've staged it nontraditionally, to go along with the very edgy feel to it."
The comedy revolves around a wake in Harlem where the body of the deceased -- a beloved neighborhood nun -- has been stolen. A group of mourners waits for its return.
"The characters are dealing with a lot of issues," she said. "There are some very strong situations."
And plenty of strong language.
"It has very strong language," Hart said and laughed. "Lots of it. Everything your parents told you not to say, we say it in this show."
Kids and those easily offended might try something lighter, she suggests.
That would be the Contemporary Youth Arts Company's "Norman Rockwell's American Paradise," which opens Thursday, ahead of "Our Lady of 121st Street" and "Next To Normal."
"This is one you can bring your grandchildren to," director Dan Kehde said. "There's no harsh language, no nudity -- none of the things I tend to like to put into my other plays." He laughed. "This is really as family friendly as we get."
Still, "Norman Rockwell's American Paradise" isn't a typical production. It's based on 26 vignettes by the iconic Saturday Evening Post illustrator. Kehde said the production tries to show what might have been the story in Rockwell's mind before he painted each scene.
Music for the show, written by Kehde's artistic partner Mark Scarpelli, reflects the musical themes of the times.
"It's kind of a musical tour of the 20th century," Kehde said. "Or a musical tour of what Rockewell wanted the 20th century to seem like. He was an idealist. He admitted he was an idealist."
The three directors hoped theater fans, and even people who don't normally go to plays, will come out to see the different offerings.
"There is a lot to choose from," Daugherty said. "That's just something great about FestivALL."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.