Arts & Entertainment

Musical About Learning Disabilities Gets World Premiere

Students take on a new musical, Normal-C, which hopes to shine a light on learning disabilities and challenge our perception of what is "normal"


The auditorium of Baldwin High School, just south of Pittsburgh, was buzzing with the energy that you'd expect from the final dress rehearsal before the opening of a musical.

This was no ordinary high school musical, though.

These students were gearing up for the world premiere of Normal-C, a show written to explore the challenges faced by people with learning disabilities and their families.

The plot centers around three students: Chloe ( Abigale Stark), who has dyslexia, Ben (Chris Storms), who has Asperger Syndrome, and Eddie (Quintin Michalski), who has non-verbal Autism.

The students are entered into a clinical trail of an experimental new drug, "Normal-C," which (naively) promises to make these students more..."normal."

I sat down with the writers and a couple of the actors to see how they tackled a show that dealt with such monumental issues:

The inspiration for playwright J.R. Hall came from his children, two of which have learning disabilities of their own.

Hall recounted how his daughter, Sophia, who has ADHD, used to spend her time watching documentaries with him instead of, say, cartoons.

"This is what we shared. It was really a treasured time for me," said Hall.

When Sophia started school, however, she was having difficulties and her teachers believed that she may need medication.

"This was really traumatic to me," said Hall, "because I thought that it would sort of normalize her and take away that special thing about her... And that's sort of where the idea for the story came from."

Baldwin High School students rehearse for their production of Normal-C

Hall and composer Jason Coll were approached by Beacon College to write this musical to celebrate Beacon's 30th anniversary.

Beacon College is the first accredited college offering four year degrees designed around the needs of students with diagnosed learning disabilities.

Coll and Hall both had a mutual friend at Beacon who thought that with their writing experience and with Hall's personal connection to learning disabilities, they would be the perfect team to bring this piece to life.

Normal-C will open at Baldwin High School on November 7 and will run for only three performances, so if you're in the region and would like to support this exciting new piece, you can find ticket info here.

I mean, how often can you say you attended a world premiere?

Left to right: Chris Storms, Quintin Michalski, Jordyn Dawley, and Abigale Stark

As for the future of this piece, Coll and Hall hope that it will be made available for other high schools to be able to perform it, but, admittedly, they haven't worked out the logistics of that yet.

"We really haven't had time to think about it; we've been...busy," says Hall.

However, anyone looking to produce this musical can contact Jason Coll's production company, Frog Prince Creative, for updates.

After hearing their catchy songs and watching the students tackle these challenging roles with poise and dignity, I left the rehearsal confident that this wouldn't be the only time this show was performed.

I mean, even Hamilton had to start somewhere, right?

How can you start something good?
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