Being a musical lover, it’s hard to imagine how this one has escaped my attention. It’s a sad tale of a seemingly normal family with teenagers going through normal problems. Suddenly, a terrible facet of the past is revealed which takes the story to a dark, complicated place. Written in 2008, the show has won Tony awards and even a Pulitzer Prize for drama, which is quite an accolade for a Broadway musical.
Described as a rock and roll musical about bipolar disorder, Next To Normal doesn’t at first conjure up the giddy anthems that are expected at a musical. Mental illness is a tough genre to get into, even without the assistance of a fantastic soundtrack but this production delivered and then some.
A simple revolving stage depicts the family home and clever lighting and direction morph it into a doctor’s office, a hospital theatre room and a seedy alley behind a night club. With such an energetic show, simple is definitely better and honestly, anything more would have been distracting. Fantastic lighting and music were used together in scenes for example between Diana and her new doctor (Michael Cormick) to hilarity but really illustrated the difficulty of Diana’s situation.
The musical score and by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey are modern and fantastically paced – I found myself humming and singing them to myself days later, prompting me to wonder if the cast recording will be available from Black Swan soon? The lyrics are witty, reflective and sometimes downright devastating – especially the songs between Diana (Rachel Beck) and her son, Gabe (James Bell)
Rachel Beck as Diana; the mother suffering bipolar disorder is amazing on stage. She brought the performance from the easy family vibe at the opening with a sparkling wit and personality and went through the isolation, pain and finally desperation by the end of the show. For me, I felt so absorbed by her journey it’s almost as if I was a part of the show myself. Her voice soared with each number, even in the defeated pain throughout her treatment you see a strength in the actress that would definitely have been needed to embody this role. I could inspect every line of hers to no avail, there was so much involved.
James Bell as Diana’s son, Gabe is pure rock and roll. Commanding not only the stage, but Diana as well – James’ voice was the perfect, strong foil to Diana and made their scenes together dynamic and unforgettable.
Brendan Hanson, as Diana’s husband Dan was the perfect embodiment of helplessness in a difficult situation. His love for his wife while trying to make sense of what is going on and care for the family was a lesson in frustration, yet his actions were all that of tenderness despite the facts.
There were amazing performances by Shannen Alyce and Joel Horwood – both 2014 WAAPA graduates. WAAPA has been crafting some amazing musical theatre talent, and these two knocked it out of the park, easily holding their own with seasoned performers.
If you’ve been holding back on going to the theatre in Perth, make this your impulse buy, even if you aren’t a fan of musicals. This is not something you’ll regret.