Review: Next to Normal – Campbelltown Theatre Group (NSW)

Directed by Jarrod Denning-Cascarino, musical direction by Tiah Streltschenko, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt

As musicals adapt, they begin to morph with the times in which they are written – for the most part. The current zeitgeist is scattered with an array of discussions that range from climate change deniers to memes of middle aged women screaming at cats. But perhaps the most prevalant discussion of the current generation is that of mental health. In a world where metamorphic CGI cats are being forced onto our screens, it can be exusable for those who do not wish to watch musical theatre. Then, there are shows like the 2008 rock musical Next to Normal that brings us back to reality and connects with how musical theatre can be one of the most important mediums in our ever developing society that can be used to highlight the issues we “everyday” people face.
Campbelltown Theatre Group are the latest society to tackle this emotionally and vocally heavy pieces of theatre.

The story of Next to Normal started like most other successful musicals, with an Off-Broadway run before hitting the Great White Way in 2009. It went on to be nominated for eleven Tony Awards and won three for Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley. It also went on to win the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the most previous winner being a little musical called Rent.

Next to Normal follows a small suburban family, the Goodmans, struggling with the invisible demons of mental health. Mother, Diana (Joanne Johnston), father, Dan (Dean Irwin), daughter Natalie (Zoe Rose) and son Gabe (Anthony Rule) struggle to cope with their mothers dwindling mental health and the impact it has on the family unit as a whole. Along the way Natalie meets Henry (Brendan Cascarino) who is a rock of support for her struggles. The last of the ensemble are Doctors Madden and Fine (both played by JM Burdon) who treat Diana.

One of the things that make this show work is its small and tight ensemble. Each one of these performers stand out on their own but the times when they’re singing together is when the show packs a powerful punch.
The casting for this production in particular is superb and the vocal strength of each performer is showcased in the space of the two and a half hour show.

Anthony Rule, Joanne Johnston and Dean Irwin in Campbelltown Theatre Group’s Next to Normal

As the tortured lead, Joanne Johnston delivers a masterclass performance. Her small ticks and movements highlight the battle she faces and this never drops throughout the show. Her vocal strength burst through the small stage of the Campbelltown Theatre and highlighted the variety of different emotions this character faced. It’s easy to see how an audience member can sit there and resonate with her daily struggles if they themselves face similar situations.

The rest of the ensemble worked their parts seamlessly throughout. Anthony Rule’s professional sounding voice wouldn’t have been displaced from the original soundtrack and the director’s costume decisions for his character added great metaphorical meaning and depth to his character. His looming presence was embodying the symbolic representations of mental health, be it anxiety, depression or schizophrenia.
Zoe Rose as struggling sibling Natalie matched Rule perfectly in their harmonies and duets in certain scenes. Her struggle with being second best to her brother and invisible is resonant of so many teenagers who feel inadequate and crumble under the pressure to form their own identity. Rose’s prescene and vocal control was impressive to say the least and she fleshed out her character perfectly.

The other characters played by Dean Irwin and Brendan Cascarino delivered all they had to their partners on stage and highlighted how the illness of mental health can not only affect the individual dealing with it but it’s tentacle-like ability to leech onto those around them.
JM Burdon’s prescence as Diana’s doctors offered a weight to the show which resonated glimpses of hope and brief releases of comedic tension that was much needed in a show this heavy.

If anything could be taken from this production, it is the discussions surrounding mental health which (I believe) are yet to be fully accepted.

Much applause also has to go to Musical Director Tiah Streltschenko who worked her way through the intricate musical score and extracted some of the most vocally powerful performances I’ve seen in community theatre in a while.
Jarrod Denning-Cascarino’s direction of the show was simple, effective and never tried to add too much into the show. Instead, it felt like he realised the purpose of the show and the messages it was trying to send to its audiences and honed in on it to bare all.

If I were to nitpick anything about the show, it would only be that I sometimes felt there were too many lighting changes used and some projected in random spots among the stage.

Next to Normal is one of those refreshing musicals like Dear Evan Hansen and Tick, Tick…Boom! that resonates with audiences due to its subject matter. It’s no random occurence that shows like this, when performed with such honesty as this one, receives warm and welcoming accolades.
If anything could be taken from this production, it is the discussions surrounding mental health which (I believe) are yet to be fully accepted.

Stin’s Final Thought: For those dealing with mental health or those who are struggling to help someone going through a mental health issue, there are multiple organisations that are on offer.

One Door Mental Health Campbelltown provides specialised mental health services to the Macarthur region including carer services, centre-based services, psychological services, individual support, youth services and assistance transitioning to the NDIS. Health Care – Psychology Services 02 9199 6143. Additional information can be found at onedoor.org.au. Other services which may be of assistance include Lifeline (lifeline.org.au or 13 11 14), Beyond Blue (beyondblue.org.au or 1300 224 636) and Headspace (headspace.org.au) or consider speaking to your local GP.

The cast of Campbelltown Theatre Group’s Next to Normal

One Comment on “Review: Next to Normal – Campbelltown Theatre Group (NSW)”

  1. I totally agree with your review. It was a phenomenal show that I had to see twice.

    Any chance of you reviewing Last Five Years Saturday matinee?. My daughter Molly is Cathy and she and the Jamie are wonderful (ok I might be slightly biased).

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