Sunday, 15 May 2011

Next to Normal

Last week I saw the MTC's production of award-winning musical/rock-opera Next to Normal (music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey), directed by Dean Bryant and Matthew Frank. Once again I rocked up to the theatre (har-de-ha) knowing absolutely nothing and found myself moved beyond expectation by this show about mental illness and its impact on a modern nuclear family.

Kate Kendall stars as Diana Goodman, a mother suffering from bi-polar disorder, and the story focuses on her struggles to conquer her illness. (It's really hard to describe this without giving away spoilers!) Particularly moving is the journey of her 16YO daughter Natalie (Christy Sullivan) from mozart-loving nerd to bitter/aggro rebel as she first lashes out and then gradually rebuilds her relationship with her mother. Her ballad 'Superboy and the Invisible Girl' gets my vote for most moving moment.

There's very little dialogue in Next to Normal, and the story is told almost purely via the lyrics and visuals -- with lighting used to big effect. I'd classify it as rock-opera, complete with rock-arias, rock-duets, rock-quartets etc performed by the cast of six. It's not a soundtrack I'd rush out and buy, but the singing is competant and the songs powerful in both sound and message. The dual-level staging too is sophisticated and used to great effect, with automated trolleys rolling props and actors in and out in different directions.

In my view the first half has greater narrative drive, with viewer expectation subverted several times as Diana disintigrates; the second half is more reflective and nurturing as the family endeavours to heal and pick up the pieces. It's a deep and heavy subject for a so-called musical, but thought-provoking and ultimately respectful of an affliction faced by so many.

Definitely worth seeing.

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