By Blake Wedding —
If you happened to miss the Cardinals for the Appreciation of Musical Theatre’s (CAMT) production of “Next to Normal,” there’s only one thing I can say: I’m sorry for your loss.
CAMT brought to life a transfixing, mesmerizing experience that leaves the viewer feeling equally affected and connected by its brilliant writing, its nuanced, multi-faceted acting and its masterful direction.
“Next to Normal” is a story that has already achieved critical acclaim, but it’s the way in which CAMT reimagined this modern classic that makes it such a remarkable triumph.
This is a story about an abundance of heavy, complex themes like family dysfunction, mental illness, trauma and drug abuse.
These are themes explored with understanding and a steadfast conviction. Yet one of the key concepts many people seem to have missed is how meticulously “Next to Normal” dissects and analyzes the human condition, the essence of what makes so much of our lives so very absurd.
CAMT succeeded in bringing all of these themes to the light, and given the choice, it would be difficult for me to distinguish the CAMT’s version of “Next to Normal” from a Broadway production of the musical.
The performances of the central cast cannot be understated. The actors commanded the stage for three or more hours while acutely understanding their characters and what their stories have to say.
Jess Harris Stiller played the troubled and deeply depressed Diana. She elevated an already sympathetic character. Trent Everett Byers played her husband Dan. His performance provided a subtle and understated evaluation of the complex emotions of a conflicted man.
Clara Wilson and Geoffrey Barnes also delivered dense and complex performances as the couple’s children and helped further demonstrate the ramifications of deep family dysfunction and generational neuroses. Benjamin Horman provided necessary comic relief with the character of “Dr. Fine,” while Nicholas Long brought an endearing and charming touch to the age-old story of teenage romance.
It goes without saying that the music in CAMT’s “Next to Normal” was also excellent. Each of the actors in this production helped elevate the word “musical.” Sarah Thomas’ direction of this production cannot be understated. Her use of lighting strengthened and enriched the writing and performances. She helped orchestrate what can only be described as one of the greatest student productions to ever grace the University of Louisville.
Witnessing “Next to Normal” firsthand is one of those experiences that only comes around every so often, but once it does, it stays with you. Its an affecting, impactful story that has the potential to resonate with every person who sees it. If you get the chance to see it, you simply need to hear what this story has to say.
Graphic by Shayla Kerr // The Louisville Cardinal