NEO's presentation of "The Theory of Relativity" all comes together by embracing the risk of not having to – because such is the way of life.

MIAMI – It is quite an ambitious task to try and distill the absurdity and beauty of the human experience, yet contemporary musical drama "The Theory of Relativity," like its featured characters, dives right in. Written by Drama Desk Award nominees Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, the production closes the inaugural 2017-2018 season for NEO Theatre Experience with performances at the college's Commons Hall Auditorium Thursday, April 12 through Sunday, April 15.

The plot of the production is simply that there is no concrete plot, other than an observation of the free-falling and somehow interconnected experience of existence. Moments are captured as the lives of nine characters intersect, with their all too relatable idiosyncrasies and overlaps delightfully condensed into song and amplified by the wonder of physics. The overarching theme of the play is captured perfectly ahead of the first song when the cast briefly breaks the fourth wall looking out into the audience and stating in unison, "I'm nothing without you."

The ensemble cast comprised of NEO and area high school students tackle their roles with the same insecurities and bursts of inspiration that are central to the play's theme. Overall they gel, conveying with ease the believability of characters lumped together through routine and shared space. A significant accomplishment as they came together for the first time just over two weeks ago for rehearsals.

The standouts are Shariece Tate and Dustin Warner who portray the often controversial challenges their characters face with performances that are authentic to the nuances of real-life experiences and musical performances that are enveloping and powerful. Tate steals the stage often, compelling in how she emotes her character's point of view even when not central to a scene and in her strong vocal performances and making touchingly memorable a mostly comedic monologue.

Co-directors Phillip Shamblin and Aaron Smith show off their veteran chops by avoiding what could have been some potentially serious pitfalls for this very new and somewhat unconventional musical. In their hands, NEO's production of "The Theory of Relativity" comes together with a natural and balancing feel in spite of an almost non-existent script and heavy reliance on the music. That reliance is still rewarding, however, with the work of vocal directors Dr. Tatiana Taylor and Tommy Dodson especially with songs "Great Expectations," "Me and Ricky," and the surprisingly entertaining ode to mathematics "Pi."

The one concrete set is a sparse and believable one for a musical looking to unpack so much, a college cafe where lives overlap in both overt and subtle ways. Transitions are smooth and the details are cared for, like the effect of a spilling cup of coffee seemingly captured mid-air during its fall. The costuming is also deceptively simple, making the contemporary characters all the more relatable.

NEO's presentation of "The Theory of Relativity" all comes together by embracing the risk of not having to – because such is the way of life.

A life-affirming musical journey, audiences will be hard pressed to walk away without a few new perspectives and a list of great earworms.

NEO Theatre Experience presents “The Theory of Relativity” in the Commons Hall Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, April 12-13 and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 14-15. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for those eighteen and under, and free for NEO students and employees.

For information about the show or the NEO Theatre Experience, contact Aaron Smith at or visit the Facebook event page.

Dorothy Ballard in the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.