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“Next to Normal” by Pangedemonium Productions

September 12, 2013
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NextToNormal1(picture courtesy of Pangdemonium Productions)

Event: “Next to Normal” by Pangdemonium Productions
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 5th – 22nd Sept 2013

Livin’ On The Edge

From the onset your mind starts to play tricks on you: Didn’t I recently see Adrian Pang on stage in a family drama playing the role of an anguished Dad struggling to hold the family together because of a son? When was the last time I watched a rather dark, edgy, rock musical featuring both Julia Abueva and Nathan Hartono?

And from then onwards, it doesn’t get any easier on the brain.

Lovers of the musical theatre form should be warned – this is no ordinary musical.

This isn’t your typical easy-to-swallow, watch-us-sing-dance-act-and-we-all-go-home-happy kind of musical extravaganza.

It isn’t your Rodgers & Hammerstein, nor Disney spectacular, nor even your Sondheim.

There are no big glitzy ensemble routines, no comedy numbers, and only a few ballads.

There are no typical protagonists with big, burning, overarching ambitions to fulfill.

The cast size is essentially just six, which is miniscule for a full-length Broadway musical.

The musical deals with a woman (Diana, played by Sally Ann Triplett) who battles bipolar disorder, and how her husband Dan (played by Adrian Pang) struggles to deal with her condition whilst trying to keep the family intact – hardly the stuff you’d imagine hit Broadway musicals are made of.

But nonetheless, the credentials of this musical – with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt – are not to be scoffed at, having won no less than a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010, being only just the eighth musical in history to do so.

“Next to Normal” is probably going to be one of the most difficult musicals you’re ever going take in, because of how it so deftly draws you into the mind of Diana, making you experience the kind of relentless paranoia she goes through ever so vividly.

Very little of the book is actually spoken, and you find yourself constantly assaulted with a barrage of songs which come at you fast and furious.

The score is a mixed bag of varying styles, from rock to pop to classical-tinged, with heavy use of unresolved chords and awkward rhythms specially designed to keep the listener on edge and in a constant state of disequilibrium.

What truly elevates this Pangdemonium production is the sheer quality of the entire cast.

There is no room for hiding in such a painfully raw and intense play like this, and every one of the cast stands up and answers the bell beautifully.

Sally Ann Triplett plays the immensely complex role of Diana with all the vigour and subtlety you could ask for (you wonder how on earth she summons the reserves to play the role night in, night out), while Adrian Pang is in fine form once again as the husband/father who tries to rein in the ties that bind, although his singing was at times overwhelmed by the music, especially in the louder rock numbers.

Nonetheless, he displays a fine singing voice with admirable range, and excels particularly in the more tender ballads.

Nathan Hartono plays the young, exuberant, angelic son Gabe who flits and floats effortlessly across the stage.

It does seem like the role of Gabe could have perhaps been played with a slightly darker and more sinister tone to it, possibly adding further depth and dimension to this play, but that was not apparent in this production.

Julia Abueva is once again impeccable with her pristine vocals, while Linden Furnell, who plays her love interest Henry, makes a very compatible pairing with her.

“Next to Normal” is a musical that truly blows the mind and shatters the notion of whatever you thought could or could not be done on a musical theatre stage.

It certainly isn’t easy viewing by any stretch, but it demonstrates the supreme power of theatre in being able to challenge and provoke you into changing the way you view a particular issue, which in this case is that of mental illness sufferers.

It may tear your heart out and wring you dry, but “Next to Normal” is definitely a show you’d want to catch if you’re in the mood to be truly challenged by musical theatre.

But if not…then I hear “Hairspray” is playing at the Esplanade Theatre end of this month.

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