Theatre – Next To Normal – The Opera Studio – 5K

In the Opera Studio at Netley, The Factory and Six Foot Something Productions have produced a truly outstanding show. Director David Lampard has created an experience which is emotionally engrossing and technically brilliant.

In the suburbs of Middle America, the Goodmans are trying to make life work, with mixed levels of success. Diane (Rosanne Hosking) has bipolar disorder and, as she once again becomes worryingly symptomatic, her family try to walk the fine line of helping her to get on top of her illness while not letting it overwhelm their own lives.

Next to Normal is one of the new breed of rock musicals. It doesn’t have the big chorus numbers of Gilbert and Sullivan or Rodgers and Hammerstein, with all of the songs performed by the seven main actors. Nor does it create a world of fantasy and romanticism but is rather focused on showing an accurate portrayal of life and some of the harder aspects of it. The subject matter is treated with honesty and respect by writer and lyricist Brian Yorkey and this has continued throughout Lampard’s staging. The realities of mental illness are acknowledged and portrayed without unnecessary over dramatisation. At the same time, the harsher aspects of living with such an illness, and the undesirable side-effects of some of the treatments undertaken to deal with them, are shown. Next to Normal illustrates that it is not just the person with the illness who has to live with it.

The music (Tom Kitt) is moving and powerful. Under the direction of Peter Johns, the six piece band delivers it in all its glory, shifting from impassioned acoustic songs with beautiful string lines to powerful rock anthems, with ease. However, this would mean nothing if it were coupled with substandard vocals. Quite the opposite is the case, with all performances being of a level which must surely match, if not surpass, those of the Broadway cast.

In addition, the structure of the show, with the small cast and intense plotline, means that characterisation is just as important as musical prowess and the cast also manage to shine in this area. Hosking shows both vulnerability and strength as she struggles with competing emotions, desires and obstacles.  As husband Dan, Paul Talbot’s performance is human and gripping, with his final scenes particularly heartbreaking. Their son Gabe (Mitchell Sanfilippo) is a strong antagonist and his vocals reach impressive heights.

Emma Bargery (Natalie) and Scott Reynolds (Henry) make an engaging couple, with their interactions creating a nicely contrasting relationship to that of Diana and Dan – though hints of the early days of Natalie’s parents’ marriage highlight the possibility that things won’t necessarily go to plan. Rounding out the cast is Rod Schultz in the dual roles of Dr Fine and Dr Madden, to which he brings a clinical disinterest to the former and a warm, truthful empathy to the latter.

On an impactful, inspired and adaptive set (David Lampard) the performers bring each scene of the show to life. Lighting (Daniel Barber) and sound (Matthew Curtis) also add to the overall feel of the production and punch home the more intense moments of the script. There are no weak links in this show and it will rightfully draw audiences back for a second or third viewing. This is the finest musical theatre produced in Adelaide for a long time.

Kryztoff Rating: 5K

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