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Actor’s beginning finally gets an end

Andy Frye plays Gabe (left) and Carolyn LePine plays Gabe’s mom, Diana, in Renegade Theater Company’s production of “Next to Normal.” (Photo by Andy Miller)

When Renegade Theater Company’s production of “Next to Normal” opens today, audiences will see an actor whose relationship with the mental illness-themed musical dates back to its earliest incarnation.

Andy Frye heard the score when it was just the writers’ voices and single notes plunked on a piano. He saw drafts that bear a resemblance to today’s script.

And yet, Frye has never actually had a role in the show — until now.

“Next to Normal,” by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, is the story of a woman’s struggle to treat bipolar disorder while trying to maintain her family’s suburban sheen. Meanwhile, the rest of the family has become fractured.

Renegade Theater Company’s production stars Carolyn LePine in the role of Diana Goodman and is directed by Katy Helbacka. It opens at 8 p.m. today at Teatro Zuccone and runs Thursdays through Saturdays through April 5.

“Next to Normal” premiered off-Broadway in 2008 and opened on Broadway a year later. It won three Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Frye auditioned for the show long before it was workshopped and revamped, and before the New York Times referred to it as a “brave and breathtaking musical.”

Frye moved to New York City in 2007 after graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He was still pretty green, he said, when he auditioned for a part in a national tour of “High School Musical.”

He didn’t get it.

Frye did pique the interest of the casting company behind the Disney production, which also was casting for the new rock musical “Next to Normal.” He was asked to try out for the part of Henry, daughter Natalie’s stoner boyfriend.

He didn’t get it.

“And then a couple days later I get a call or email about coming in for the role of the son, Gabe,” Frye said.

He didn’t get it.

Then: “I got asked to come in for the understudy for the son, the boyfriend and the doctor,” he said. “An understudy swing role.

“And I didn’t get that.”

And now, half a decade later, Frye has added regional theater credits (and some bartending and catering gigs) and has moved back to the Midwest. He returned to Duluth this past fall to develop an old-timey live radio theater program with friends, which will premiere in April at The Underground.

Frye has maintained an interest in “Next to Normal” and said his roommates can vouch for his repeated plays of the soundtrack.

Still, he balked at auditioning for Renegade Theater Company’s production.

“Well, first I was like, ‘I’m too old. That ship has sailed,’ ” he said. “I lost my shot at that part.”

But the idea of being in the show won out.  

“I think the story is incredible,” he said. “The music is phenomenal. I’ve always had a little soft spot for it.”

Helbacka said she knew Frye was a fit for the role of Gabe, Diana’s teenage son, as soon as she heard him sing at the audition.

“I was like, ‘There we go. Perfect. We don’t have to worry about that anymore,’ ” she said. “He’s perfect in the part. I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else in the role of Gabe.”

Read: Renegade wins ‘Next to Normal’ in a coin toss