This production is not for the faint hearted, you will leave with tears streaming down your face and a new outlook on reality.
Next To Normal follows a mother struggling with worsening bipolar disorder and the effects that managing her illness has on her family. It is a frighteningly realistic depiction of mental health and truly influences every audience member that comes through Javeenbah’s doors.
With direction by Nathan French, this production is fantastic. French has had extensive experience both on and off stage and this shows throughout this production. The blocking and movements are simple and effective and it’s clear that the actors feel right at home in their characters under French’s expert direction.
As Assistant Director & Musical Director, Taylor Holmes has whipped the vocals into shape! Holmes has worked with the actors to not only just sing the music but to really understand the emotion behind it. Holmes is an extremely experienced Musical Director and it’s clear that this is just the start for her, with such talent she is destined to go far in this industry.
The set design by Tony Odling, Taylor Homes & Nathan French is simple yet effective. Utilising an upstage platform, stair case and simple dressings (table & chairs, lounge, lamp) really brought the audience into this simple home. A nice touch to the set are the inspirational posters hung up around the house. It really adds to the juxtaposition of the show, trying to raise a family in a normal loving home whilst our characters go through deep emotional trauma.
The lighting by Colin Crow is nothing short of perfection. Crow is a staple for Javeenbah’s shows and never fails to hit the mark. Crow expertly crafts spaces and settings with the flick of a light & is extremely inventive with some scenes. Specifically, towards the end of the play when Dan is sitting in the dark with a back light showcasing he is turning away from the light & his life.
The Sound by Pagan-Leigh Camilleri is wonderful.It’s is a pet peeve walking into rock musicals and finding the sound and vocals too quiet. But this is not that and Camilleri delivers with this production! There were a few minimal mic issues but as the season progresses the actos are sure to become more comfortable in knowing how to position their faces in hugs to avoid rubbing mics.
The costumes by Christine McLachlan are beautiful. They are emulative of the characters and simple enough not to distract from the story. A very special mention must go to the costumes worn by Natalie, they are perfect to showcase a 16 year old and gives great insight into this character.
Martina French provided additional choreography for this production and this really assists in moving the story along. The best choreography in the show is between Diana & the Dr during their ‘appointment.’
However, the highlight of this production is, of course, the star studded cast. Mitch Walsh as Dr Madden/Dr Fine is fantastic! Walsh plays the Doctors with suave and confidence, taking us on a journey into Diana’s life. Walsh is an extremely talented and experienced actor and this can be seen throughout this production.
Peter Santos as Henry is nothing short of adorable! Santos’s rendition of Henry is in some aspects that of a Golden Retriever, he keeps coming back and back and back. Santos shows us the softer side of Henry and how he just wants to help Natalie. Santos not only is fantastic on stage but he is even studying his Bachelor’s in Biomedical Science & Psychology which probably makes him perfect for this show!
Hunter Wall as Gabe is on another level. On occasion it’s hard to work out who is better, Aaron Tveit or Wall! Wall’s vocals are clear and faultless throughout the entire production, really letting us understand who Gabe is and why he can be deceitful and manipulative.
Yasmin Fitzgerald plays Natalie with fire & drive. Fitzgerald embodies this character, taking us along from uptight to outspoken as she samples drugs to ease the pain of her own battle with mental illness. It’s hard not to feel for Fitzgerald’s Natalie who goes through so much pain. Fitzgerald really takes the audience on a journey through her own grief whilst trying to help her mother through her own.
Lee Stoka is no stranger to the Javeenbah stage, this time in the role of Dan. Stoka is back as the romantic husband struggling to support his wife. Stoka is a fantastic vocalist with classical training which can be seen throughout this production. His rendition of ‘I’ve Been’ is a true turning point of this show, proving how dedicated Dan is to his wife.
However the true star of this show is Rowena Orcullo Ryan as Diana. Orcullo Ryan is a powerhouse vocalist not making a single mistake throughout this tough and vocally challenging musical. Orcullo Ryan gives us a masterclass in acting through song bringing heartfelt expression to every line and word. The lines between the actor and Diana are blurred & all we see is Diana on stage, not an actor. Orcullo Ryan balances rawness and sensitivity in portraying Diana’s mental illness and ingeniously conveys the fundamental differences in Diana throughout her different treatments. Orcullo Ryan holds the audience in the palm of her hand for this entire show.
This production is like nothing we’ve seen on the Gold Coast before. Another highlight from the show was right at the start of interval. The cast put on such a thought-provoking Act 1 that the opening night audience just sat in silence for a few minutes.
The entire production team, cast and crew has smashed this out of the park! With standing ovations from every show so far, it’s clear that this is going to sell out fast. If you haven’t bought your tickets to this production we highly suggest you do, because all that’s left to say is BRAVO!
Next to Normal runs until October 1 2022! Book your tickets for this thought provoking and poignant musical now!