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REVIEW: Next To Normal is anything but average

057 Brendan Hanson, James Bell, Joel Horwood, Rachael Beck, Shannen Alyce. Next to Normal. Image by Gary Marsh

Next To Normal | Heath Ledger Theatre | Until Nov 22

★ ★ ★ ★ 

Brian Yorkey’s highly acclaimed Broadway musical ‘Next To Normal’ peeps through a suburban window into the lives of the picture perfect, all-American Goodman family.

At first glance, the Goodman’s seem like a well-oiled machine, but doting mother Diana, bread-winning father Dan and their two affable children are all holding their own dark secrets as we delve deeper into the Goodman’s inner machinations.

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As we learn the Goodman’s all have their problems, Black Swan State Theatre Company’s run of this contemporary musical is almost flawless from start to finish. Stellar performances, dynamic set design and an exceptionally tight script make for one of the most enjoyable theatre experiences you’ll have this year.

Opening with the incredibly catch tune, ‘Just Another Day’ – we are introduced to the Goodman family, were it becomes apparent rather quickly that matriarch Diana (Rachael Beck) struggles with mental health issues. Diana has lived with Bi-Polar disorder for 16 years and her family have become accustomed to her erratic behaviour, her dizzying highs and terrible lows.

Studious daughter Natalie (Shannen Alyce) and her mischievous brother (James Bell) feel like they’re ripped straight from the pages of a Disney teen drama, with a dash of substance added for good measure – each of the characters were perfect, beautiful Americanised family archetypes, who grow throughout the show and reveal their nuances and flaws.

042 James Bell, Brendan Hanson, Rachael Beck, Shannen Alyce, Joel Horwood. Next to Normal. Image by Gary Marsh

Beck, Alyce and Bell are all staggeringly powerful singers, who effortlessly maintained their Disney-fied American accents, creating an appropriate air of Hollywood flair. The heightened, saccharine sweetness of the characters accents and personalities juxtaposes brilliantly with the stripped back reality of the characters darker, introspective moments – where the performances are just as impressive in their raw honesty.

The set is simple, yet creative employment of set changes and movement elevate the show to much more. A rotating floor makes for rapid scene changes that keep the rapid-fire pace of the play and its myriad songs all the more enthralling. Revolving, circular conveyors on stage pushed and pulled the characters around the stage, amplifying the emotion of the music and of Diana’s unpredictable condition with its movement.

A musical full of surprises and twists, laughs and stark realities, ‘Next To Normal’ uses comedy and a light-touch to delve deep into the little understood and nuanced world of those struggling with their mental health. The play explores the effects of mental health concerns on the individual, the family and the struggle some face between medication and self-identity.

‘Next To Normal’ is like a Disney musical that grew up, experimented with drugs for a while and learned to swear like a sailor. This funny, earnest exploration of the Goodman family features some of the most talented performers and vocalists Australia has to offer. This play speaks to audiences of all kinds, as it begs the question – “what is normal?” You won’t be able to get these tunes out of your head for days.

Black Swan State Theatre Company’s ‘Next To Normal’ is playing at the Heath Ledger Theatre from 7th – 22nd November. Tickets available from Ticketek.com.au or call 1300 795 012

Leigh Hill

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