Stephanie Powell, who plays the lead in Off The Leash Theatre’s next production, the rock musical, Next To Normal, is up for a challenge. She first worked with OTL in 2010 when the newly formed company was launching its very first dramatic production, The Return by Reg Cribb.

IMG_0778Currently, Powell is playing the female lead role in Next To Normal, a rock musical full of surprises, laughs and stark realities which invites audiences into the seemingly picture perfect world of the Goodmans, a family reeling under the pressure of mental illness.

In the kaleidoscopic world of The Goodmans, a family like any other, struggling with its own unique pains and pressures, we meet Diana, Dan & daughter Natalie. Their story of love, loss and fractured lives, struggling with the mayhem brought daily by Diana’s bipolar disorder is moving, edgy, darkly funny & brutally, brilliantly honest. A rock and roll cocktail of moods, a ride of restless questing emotion and the mad magic of the human mind, Next to Normal is far from a Disney romp and like nothing you will have ever seen on stage before.

Like all fine performers, Powell takes risks by putting herself into unfamiliar situations, into other lives, and works intently to understand the character, their motivations and their journey.

“But it’s even more stimulating and, let’s face it, challenging to work on a character like Diana, because with a mental illness, she doesn’t always react in a logical way or feel things as predictably as other people. There’s a level of intensity in the character and the music and lyrics that I haven’t experienced in a show before. And of course, music is a universal language, which helps the characters reveal the range of their emotions.”

IMG_1150Powell says a role in Next To Normal was on her bucket list as the first time she ever saw the show she was “blown off her chair” by the power and the intensity of the work, and it changed the way she saw musicals forever. She also said that although the music is technically very difficult and vocally challenging, it is also rewarding and stimulating. While the dramatic role of Diana is emotionally quite exhausting, it is also exhilarating. Powell throws herself into her rehearsals 100%.

Powell is a Warragul-ite who now lives and works in Melbourne, and she has been performing since she was about 14. She has an extensive list of singing credits and shows to her name and has a diverse vocal style that suits soft jazz and ballads through to funk and soft rock.

She is known for hosting Warragul’s Carols By Candlelight for the last 12 years. One of her favourite major roles was one of the witches in The Witches of Eastwick with Williamstown Theatre Company, but she also loved playing Madame Thenardier in Warragul Theatre Company’s Les Miserables.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 10.05.34 PMPowell is very excited to be performing back in her home town on the magnificent stage of the West Gippsland Arts Centre, and working with such a talented team. “I have the utmost respect for Nick Kong (director) and Sally McKenzie (musical director) who are superb performers in their own right, and such creative and experienced directors.

“If I were to give a reason for audience to come and see this work”, Powell said, “it would be that it had such a powerful impact on me, but also because I think most of us are touched by mental illness in some way most of the time. It truly is out of the ordinary”.

This captivating, exhilarating and provocative production will premiere in a tour, with performances at La Trobe Performing Arts Centre (April 2nd), WGAC (April 8th and 9th) and Gemco Players Theatre (April 23).