Never before has generational mental illness and trauma taken center stage in a live theatre production as it does in Relative Space. Lead Producer and Broadway Records President & CEO Van Dean (Tony Award-winning producer of Porgy and Bess and Grammy Award-winning producer of The Color Purple) partners with Co-Producer and Axia Partners CEO Jeremy Long to present an original, new musical, Relative Space. It’s the gripping story of a mother and teenaged daughter navigating the challenges of generational mental illness and trauma that have plagued their family. The captivating musical is the result of a collaboration between highly respected, award-winning Utahns, including playwright Melissa Leilani Larson, accomplished theatrical actors, and 16-year-old Warner Music Group recording artist and new Utah resident Kjersti Long. Relative Space is a story about women that is sung, played, written, and directed by women. A limited engagement will run June 22 to 24 and June 29 to July 1 at the recently opened, $7M Broadway-style Theatre for the Community at Liahona in Pleasant Grove. As May is Mental Health Month, the cast and crew of Relative Space is currently in rehearsals.
Melissa Leilani Larson, an award-winning Filipina writer whose work has been shown in five continents, authored Relative Space, inspired by the themes central to Kjersti’s music. Her adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which recently sold out its entire run of 56 shows at the Hale Center Theater Orem, will appear at Texas Shakespeare Festival in July and is being published by Stage Partners later this year. Her work-in progress, A Form of Flattery, is a finalist at several prestigious festivals across the country. Melissa is the only woman and the youngest person to receive more than one AML Drama award.
“It is my hope that Relative Space will further encourage and normalize discussions of mental health and shed light on how trauma can have a generational impact on families,” says Larson. “I’m so grateful to have an incredible cast and crew bring to light this powerful story of one family’s struggles that should be highly relatable for many. Between Kjersti’s powerful music and the actors’ riveting performances, we anticipate this to be an emotional viewing experience.”
On the heels of signing a distribution deal with Warner Music Group, Kjersti Long’s music inspired Larson to write the Relative Space story. A recent transplant to Utah, Kjersti is a rock and roll singer-songwriter prodigy from Clinton, New Jersey. In 2022, Warner Music released her first two songs, “Boys in Jersey” and “IDC,” a duet with Ryan Follesé of Hot Chelle Rae fame early this spring. This year, Warner Music Group will release her first EP. Kjersti has headlined shows at notable venues in the New York area, including The Bitter End, the Apollo Theatre, and The Stone Pony, in addition to House of Blues San Diego. Locally, she headlined a sold-out performance at The Velour in Provo at the age of 12.
“As a recording artist, my mission is to use my voice to empower women and those who are oppressed and disadvantaged. The emotions that are revealed in my music allow me to connect with the audience,” Kjersti explains. “Since we are the same age, I can also identify with Brit, the daughter in the musical. It’s my hope that this production can make a positive impact on kids and their families.”
Van Dean says, “I have been following Kjersti’s career with great interest for a while now. When I first heard the music for Relative Space, I knew it was something incredibly special. This show is deeply relatable, filled with fantastic music, and has a long and exciting life ahead of it.”
“We are incredibly proud of the talent we assembled to create a compelling, provocative musical that sheds light on mental illness and destigmatizes it,” adds Jeremy Long. “Just as the success of Shucked has recently demonstrated, Relative Space has the potential to disrupt Broadway once again by proving that world-class theater can be developed with Utah talent. Audiences who see this can expect a Broadway-caliber experience as no expense has been spared while we prepare the show for a shift to New York City and the Broadway ascension process.”
Relative Space Co-Director Shelby Noelle Gist has quickly become one of Utah’s hottest names in directing. Her credits include Passing Strange at Salt Lake Acting Company; Something to Cry About, a Devised Piece at the Salt Lake Fringe Festival; The Hill Cumorah Pageant in Manchester, New York; and Taming of the Shrew for The Theater Arts Guild. As a minority director, she revels in bringing untold stories to the stage.
Co-Director Joshua Long is a director and theatre department head at Utah’s Hillcrest High School where his students have won 12 state/national championships during his 17 year tenure. As a teacher, was the recipient of an Honorable Mention Tony Award for Excellence in Theatre Education in 2019, was named a President Biden Presidential Scholar award winner in 2022 and UHSAA State Coach of the Year in 2015. Joshua has produced and directed eight American premieres from the London stage, piloted productions for Disney, and collaborated with Britain’s acclaimed Frantic Assembly to create Mirrors, an original theatre production exploring adolescent life in America.
Cast members of Relative Space include globally renowned, Utah-based actors Liz Golden (Mothers) and Chase Grant (Dad 2023). For more on the show’s cast and crew visit, https://relativespacemusical.com/.
Adult tickets range in price from $20-30. Student (with ID) and seniors are $15-25. Tickets can be purchased here. Due to the sensitive nature of its subject matter and references to suicide, this show is recommended for ages 12 and over. All ages are permitted and require a ticket for a seat. Cry rooms are available.