Estimated reading time: 9-10 minutes
PLEASANT GROVE — 16-year-old Kjersti Long has been writing music for years as a way to keep a journal and overcome depression.
“Every part of my life is woven into it,” she said.
When she was 12, she sang her song for her parents, and her father, Jeremy Long, was shocked by the song. He was also concerned about her daughter’s mental health.
He immediately rushed to her aid, told her about what she was going through, and got her into therapy. Gersti’s music was a way for her to communicate her struggles to her parents.
Four years later, the song, written by Gersti, is part of the climax of a new musical that premieres over a two-week weekend at Pleasant Grove before vying for the Broadway spot.
“Relative Space: Atypical Musicals” is a combination of theater and rock concerts that showcases mental health and intergenerational trauma on stage. The musical will run six times at Pleasant Grove’s Community Liahona Theater from June 22-24 and June 29-July 1.
All of the music for “Relative Space” was written by Gersti and her father over the years, but none of the songs were intended for use in a musical.
Several of Gersti’s other songs were adapted into pop music available on the streaming service as part of a deal with Warner Records. Some songs she wasn’t picked by the label, but she and her father still felt they were worth listening to.
The Longs contacted Broadway Records president Van Dean, whom they had known since they lived in New Jersey, and he told them the music could easily be turned into a musical.
“We’ve heard this music so many times in our lives that we’d never heard it until we realized it told a story. After[Dean]said that, we felt like a little light bulb moment,” Gersti said. He said.
Dean told the Longs that he could not give up music and had to find someone to write a musical.
Making a ‘different’ musical
So Long decided to develop a musical. Although he had many connections with the people of New York City, he wanted to showcase Utah’s talents in musicals.
“I’ve been close to talent in Utah and it’s insane. I knew there was great talent here and I had the opportunity to come back here and work. So I said let’s do this in Utah,” Long said. , became a musical producer.
With the help of his brothers involved in the Utah theater, Long contacted playwright Melissa Leilani Larson. Long describes him as “the best playwright in Utah”. Larson worked closely with Long to create a stage-ready story from Gersti’s music.
“What she’s done to this show is really special,” Long said of Larson’s script. “This show is structured differently than any show ever on Broadway. Think of it as a play and a rock concert at the same time.”
Gersti fronts and sings in a rock band, but she also has “awesome theater” going on at the same time, Long said.
The show’s lead actors are Liz Golden and Chase Grant, both of whom are well known in the Utah theater world. The show also features other musicians, supporting characters and “movers” or dancers, all of whom are very talented, Long said.
There’s a twist to “Relative Space,” but Larson and Long wouldn’t give more details, saying they want to wow audiences.
“People go see it. I think it’s going to be really great. I’ve been to a lot of shows and it’s something I’ve never done or seen before,” Larson said. rice field.
When the show was first being developed, Long didn’t want everything to be focused on Gersti, so he held auditions to find the perfect person for the lead singer. However, the directors all agreed that Gersti sang the music better because of the connection between the lyrics and the story.
“They came to me and said, ‘I want you to sing the song because I think you wrote it and you can express the feeling behind it.’ And I was so excited,” she said. “Emotions are very difficult to grasp and understand in our time. I hope that listening to my music will give[the audience]an emotion they can feel and overcome.”
Gersti said she was very happy to be able to perform her music live and share it in a “very creative and artistic way”.
“I’ve never been surrounded by so many incredibly talented people. They’re all so artistic, so cool, and such an environment to grow in,” she said.
According to Long and Larson, most musicals have one or two songs that stand out in the soundtrack, and the music usually follows or coincides with the written story.
However, since Gersti’s music was the beginning of “Relative Space,” Long said that all 10 songs have their own personality, each strong in its own right.
“They are all bangers,” Larson said.
Mental health and intergenerational trauma
It’s not just the music being developed at the outset that sets ‘Relative Space’ apart. While other musicals such as “Next to Normal” and “Dear Evan Hansen” have touched on mental health, this show offers a frank and relatable look at the impact of generational trauma and mental illness on families. A certain personal point of view is portrayed, Long said.
The musical follows a mother with depression and her daughter with an anxiety disorder as they wander through their lives separately without talking about their conflicts. Throughout the show, they deal with the walls that have been built between them and learn how past events affect their future.
Gersti’s music is woven into the story, detailing her own struggles with depression and mental health.
“Those threads are in the songs this girl wrote when she was 12 and 13. She was very aware. “I think about them,” Larson said. “The music fits this mother-daughter dynamic very well, it’s very relatable and I think the audience will enjoy and see themselves reflected.”
According to Long, the incidence of mental health problems among girls is increasing. As her father and her husband, Long experienced the illness first-hand in her family and it was hard to see how it affected her daughter, she said.
He said he looked at research that showed that certain people may be genetically predisposed to mental health problems.
“The only thing we all agree on how to deal with this is to communicate openly and honestly with the people who love you,” Long said. “And that’s what our show is about. I think we’re about to bring that to the light of day.”
Long said the musical didn’t pull any punches and pushed hard to make the show as open and honest as possible about mental health issues.
He hopes the show will encourage conversation so that families who watch the show will later see each other, discuss their challenges with each other, and know that it’s okay to be more open.
“It’s going to be hard for some people to watch, but it’s going to be real,” Long said. “I hope people walk away from this show that the safest place to talk about this is with their loved ones. Love exists. Most of the time you can have that kind of conversation and that’s the safest place.”
Larson said that some people watching the show will realize they’re not alone in dealing with mental health issues. She hopes the show will touch people’s hearts and give them what they need on a “very personal and personal level”.
“Mother and daughter who may not have mental health issues but may not have the best relationship. They just need to learn to communicate. is a family drama,” Larson said. “There are so many ways music speaks to people, and there are moments and scenes that speak to people.”
red carpet event
“Relative Space” began as a fun side project that Long planned to shoot and send to New York. He didn’t have high hopes, because for the most part, shows developed in New York City with talent in New York City take precedence over works created elsewhere. Few shows begin the reading process to succeed on Broadway, he says.
In mid-May, the music was leaked to Broadway people who knew Long, and the show was thrown into a frenzy.
“Everything hit a dead end. Multiple Tony and Grammy-winning producers started contacting me to join,” Long said. “I went from just doing something fun to suddenly being like, ‘Oh my God, this is a big deal.'”
The show is already slated for industry leading in New York City in October and marks the first step to a Broadway show. The crew will host a VIP red carpet night as opening night on June 22, with several Tony and Grammy winners expected to fly in, Long said.
Long is thrilled that the show, developed entirely in Utah with only Utah talent, could be a big hit on Broadway.
“Everyone wants to be in something and say, ‘I was there when it first came out, before it spread to New York,'” he said. “And two years from now it’s on Broadway and they’re going to say, ‘I was there too.’ And that’s really cool.”
Red carpet events are rare in Utah, so Long said the staff were “doing it the right way” by having everyone “get dressed up” and put on a classy premiere.