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Jesca Cluff, UVU
Topher Rasmussen as Gabe and Jacquelyne Jones as Diana in the UVU production of Next to Normal, which was honored at the national Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, with Jones receiving Outstanding Performance by an Actress distinction.
It’s not just one person who is shining here. It’s pretty clear that the whole production kicked us in the gut, in the best possible way. —Gregg Henry, KCACTF artistic director

OREM — Vying with more than 600 collegiate theater departments from across the country at a national festival, the Utah Valley University Theatre Department earned five top-of-the-list national honors for its staging of the contemporary musical “Next to Normal.”

The student production was recognized for Outstanding Musical; Outstanding Director of a Musical, David Tinney; Outstanding Performance by an Actress, Jacquelyne Jones; Outstanding Performance and Production Ensemble; and Outstanding Lighting Design, Michael Grey.

For UVU’s 2014 entry into the 46th annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, Rob Moffat earned the Distinguished Achievement in Music Direction honor, which is the first time that category has been included as the festival is currently organized.

UVU was honored by KCACTF in six leading categories last year for its staging of a drama, “Vincent in Brixton."

Back-to-back national honors — in opposite production categories, a musical and a drama — is an outstanding achievement, said Gregg Henry, KCACTF artistic director.

“Your community is lucky to have this level of artists working with students who have achieved national recognition in the last two years,” Henry said. KCACTF's annual activities involve more than 18,000 theater students from colleges and universities divided into eight regions nationwide.

“I’ve got to confess that I walked into the theater where UVU’s production was staged, and I thought, ‘Let’s see what this undergraduate program can do with this show.’ And then bam! From the moment they opened their mouths, they just floored me,” Henry added.

“We knew we had a good show on our hands back in the fall,” said Chris Clark, UVU theater chairman. “We were all so excited last year, but to have it happen two years in a row is tremendously exciting for us.”

“What was so impressive about the UVU production was that every single performer on that stage was at this dynamic performance level, vocally as well as actors,” Henry said. “You can’t just sit back as a good singer in that show. You can’t pull out your ‘American Idol’ games. ‘Next to Normal’ demands the heart and the soul of an actor. No one fell off the table, in that there was a couple of strong people and then the talent skips. It wasn’t that way at all. As I said, everyone was at a very dynamic level.

“It’s not just one person who is shining here. It’s pretty clear that the whole production kicked us in the gut, in the best possible way,” Henry said.

“There was a strong level of talent — actually an exceptional level of talent for student performers,” Clark said. “And the adjudicators saw really smart direction and beautiful design. The combination of those three elevated the show to a level that surprised a lot of people. Many people saw ‘Next to Normal’ and were surprised that it was a college-level production. It was a professional show on every level.”

Clark, who was recognized for his direction of “Vincent in Brixton,” noted the contribution to UVU’s department by Tinney, theater-artist-in-residence.

“Dave is one of the top musical theater directors, if not the top, in the state,” Clark said. “He is very talented and very unassuming and humble. He would never blow his own horn. He really is a major, major talent. And the majority of the work he does is off campus, so when he does work on campus it’s always a thrill. I am so excited to see him recognized on a national level. The work he does is so magnificent.”

Henry had similar praise for Clark’s guidance of UVU theater students.

“I’ve always admired Chris’ leadership,” Henry said. “I’ve always been amazed by the audacity of their choices of productions, whether it was ‘Nosfratua’ a previous year, whether it was ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ a couple of years ago. Their shows have been sort of out on a limb.

“Every time I go to Region 8, where UVU is based, I look forward to whatever the university is going to have at the festival,” he added. “I did think that if there’s anything that would trip up UVU, it was going to be ‘Next to Normal.’ And lo and behold, it didn’t. The students rose to the occasion.”