BWW Review: NEXT TO NORMAL at Cardinals For The Appreciation Of Musical Theatre
Most of the time musical theatre serves the unique purpose of lightening our mood and bringing us joy. Traditionally they were meant to take you out of the harsh realities that wait just beyond the exit of the theater. While these shows definitely have a place, musicals that confront those realities have taken the forefront in recent years. One of the most recent examples is the Pulitzer Prize winning rock musical Next to Normal. With class and precision, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey crafted a modern musical masterpiece about the horrors of mental illness, the toll it has one the ones you love, and the never ending search for a "cure".
The show is done occasionally, but not as much as some might like. For the first time in four years CAMT is bringing it back to the Louisville stage for a short time. Sarah Danielle Thomas' production is small but effective. She makes the most of her resources and turns in a very well thought out and nuanced production.
Her cast is lead by Jess Harris Stiller as Diana Goodman. Diana is the center of the story, it chronicles her battle with bipolar disorder, among other grey area diagnoses. Stiller is absolutely magnetic in this show. She specifically shines in the more dramatic scenes. She sings the intense rock score with fabulous flare and delivers one of my favorite performances of the year. The ability she has to break my heart with one look is truly incredible. Her take on Diana is not to be missed. Opposite Stiller is Trent Everett Byers as Dan. Byers' voice is near perfect and he finds a wonderful balance between dorky dad and concerned husband. Dan's ballad "I've Been" near the end of the first act is heartbreaking and profoundly moving. Rounding out the Goodman family is Clara Wilson as their daughter Natalie. She effortlessly taps into the anxiety and angst most high pressures high schoolers feel, and the result is a fully realized portrayal of a truly flawed and unique individual.
The supporting cast is very strong as well. Geoffrey Barnes as Gabe is suave and mysterious. He sings the score with ease and truly makes a grand impression on the show as a whole. Nicholas Long as Henry is very good here. He easily pulls off the dorky stoner kid, and has wonderful chemistry in his scenes with Wilson. Lastly we have Tyler Akin as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden. He does well with the limited material he has, but his scenes opposite Stiller's Diana are some of the most powerful impact in the show, as they truly illustrate the catch 22 of finding quality treatment of mental illness in America.
Full disclosure, this is one of my all time favorite musicals, so I was very excited to have the chance to revisit it, and I can say with certainty this this production lived up to most of my expectations. Other than a few opening night flubs, the show feels very well put together and polished. While the entire ensemble is strong, Stiller's Diana is the beating heart of this production, and the irony is you only have 3 more chances to see it. Challenge your mind, your sensitivities, and your soul by seeing this production, you won't regret it.
Next to Normal
November 10, 15, and 17
The Red Barn at University of Louisville
Tickets for sale at the door, cash and card are accepted