Next to Normal is not an easy musical to watch. It's an intense one that deals with an issue some people, for whatever reason, still find taboo. However, due to the fact everyone knows someone who had or has some kind of mental illness, Next to Normal is necessary. The Centerstage cast took on the musical and provided a gripping, emotional, superbly performed tale that ranks with some of Centerstage's best work.
Next to Normal focuses on a family being torn apart by mental illness. Melissa Kenney Shepherd portrays the mother, Diana, who is suffering from the illness. The family tries to cope with her problems. Jeremy Moon, as father Dan, attempts to help Diana. Meanwhile, Lauren McCombs, as daughter Natalie, finds solace in a piano practice room and later with her boyfriend, Henry, portrayed by Mitch Donahue.
Diana's condition continues to worsen, despite help from Mike Fryman's Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden (although it was hard to tell the two characters apart). Multiple treatments and drug concoctions follow, leading to varied results. During her episodes, Diana can sometimes see her dead son, Gabe, portrayed by Robbie Lewis.
Throughout the piece, Shepherd remains pitch-perfect in vocal delivery and in intensity as her condition changes. Diana is a very difficult character, but Shepherd clearly put the time in to work out every possible nuance needed to make the role compelling and make an impact on the audience.
The rest of the cast, more or less, matches that intensity. Lewis's performance of I'm Alive sounded straight out of Broadway, and McCombs's standoff against Diana on Superboy and the Invisible Girl was full of rage and rebellion - perfect for that moment. Finally, Fryman going from doctor to rock star and back to doctor was the most hilarious part of the show.
The only major down side of the show came from the audience. At the beginning of the second act, a few audience members near the back rows apparently didn't know theatre etiquette. When the lights go down after intermission, that means the show is starting again and it's time to listen. They were still talking halfway during the first song, even when others around them tried to shush them.
Despite this, Centerstage presented one of the most gripping, intense shows seen in Louisville in 2012. Not everyone's going to see Next to Normal, due to the mental illness storyline, but everyone probably should. Centerstage has the right cast to pull off this amazing show.
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(Image from Centerstage)