5 stars

With music by Tom Kitt, and lyrics and book by Brian Yorkey, Next To Normal first premiered off Broadway in 2008, making its Broadway debut the following year. It was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning three of them, including best Original Score and Best Orchestration. In 2010 Next To Normal won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, becoming just the eighth musical to do so.

The story tackles some deep and complex themes that remain just as relevant today as when the show first opened. The provocative story that will linger well after you’ve left the theatre as your mind attempts to resolve what happens next to these characters. Every production of Next To Normal is unique in its portrayal, but requires care to ensure the audience comes away with a feeling of hope and not despair. Producer James Terry has assembled a talented cast and creative team to bring this story to life and the result is an outstanding show that had the opening night audience leap to their feet for a well deserved standing ovation.

The show is well suited to the intimacy of Chapel Off Chapel’s performance space. The set design by Dann Barber makes good use of the full available space, with a clever architectural blue print image. Enhancing this set is a brilliant lighting design by Jason Bovaird that centres attention focus and creates mood and effect.

The rich score is masterfully executed by a busy seven person band, under the musical direction of Nathan Firman.

A strong cast of six performers all have their moments in the spotlight and there isn’t a weak moment in the show.

Queenie van de Zandt is extraordinary as the troubled Diana Goodman. Van de Zandt brings a warmth and tenderness to her portrayal of Diana, her experience shining through. Van de Zandt shows appropriate restraint in the quieter moments, while allowing her vocal strength to effortlessly soar in the big numbers. Van de Zandt looks at home in this role and is completely convincing as Diana.

Next To Normal made its Australian premiere in 2011 by MTC, with Matt Hetherington playing the role of Dan Goodman; a role which earned him a Green Room Award. Hetherington is reprising his award winning role in this latest production of Next To Normal by James Terry Collective. Hetherington is perfectly cast opposite Queenie van de Zandt. His strong vocals are suitably matched against her powerhouse voice. Hetherington is convincing as the solid and stoic Dan and the final scene is gut wrenching.

Melanie Bird shines as daughter Natalie, and gives a convincing and heart breaking performance. She shares a believable chemistry with Hanlon Innocent, who plays her love interest, Henry. Innocent brings a very likeable quality to the role that makes their love story feel worth the battle.

Making his professional debut, Sam Richardson almost dances his way through the show as Gabe, creating an almost ethereal quality to his character, then demonstrating his incredible talent in a resounding rendition of ‘I’m Alive.’

Rounding out this impressive cast is experienced performer Ross Chisari as Dr Madden/Dr Fine, bringing some light comedic relief in his rockstar moment.

Director Mark Taylor has delivered a beautifully paced show that allows the story to breathe and be absorbed by the audience. The heavy themes are handled with maturity and great respect for the subject matter. The cast show restraint in the quieter times and are allowed to shine in appropriate moments. The whole show flows effortlessly and the cast feel very settled in their roles. There really is nothing to fault about this production. The powerful lyrics are articulated with crisp, clear diction that ensured not a single lyric was missed, and sound design by Marcello was perfectly balanced. Credit to Taylor for ensuring the audience is left with the resources needed to reach out if feeling confronted by the themes of the show.

After numerous COVID disruptions, this was worth the wait. Congratulations to James Terry Collective on an outstanding production that would look right at home on any main stage in Melbourne.

Don’t miss this very limited season at Chapel Off Chapel.

For more information and tickets go to: https://www.nexttonormal.com.au/


Photo credit: James Terry