Next to Normal - ARA Darling Quarter (NSW)
Directed by Eezu Tan and Marie-Jo Orbase. Presented by Whimsical Productions.
Reviewed by MaryAnne Reid
ARA Theatre, Darling Quarter
22nd November to 25th November 2023
- Full of charm and ambition, Whimsical Productions presents a delightful production of the much-loved Off-Broadway musical -
Whimsical Productions chose as its most recent show the award-winning 2008 American rock musical Next to Normal, which tells the story of a mother who struggles with worsening bipolar disorder and explores the effects on her family of living with the illness. A glance at the audience on opening night revealed rows and rows of under-30s from diverse cultural backgrounds, reflecting very well the nature of Whimsical Productions itself - a young theatre company dedicated to diversity in every aspect of its shows and storytelling. The theme of mental illness is also one that resonates with the young audience, who are more-than-comfortable with this once-taboo subject being the springboard for a night of song and dance.
Artistic Director Melody Duan started Whimsical Productions in 2017 and, along with producer Matthew Yuen, is passionate about influencing the performing arts industry to represent a more modern, relatable Australia. The two female co-directors of Next to Normal, Eezu Tan and Marie-Jo Orbase, embody this vision throughout the production.
Claire Perry plays Diana, the mentally ill mother and Sebastian Nelson plays her husband, Dan, and while they both do a solid job, the standouts for me were Chaya Ocampo, who plays the brilliant daughter racked by insecurity and what she sees as missing out on a mother’s love, and Marcus Rivera, who brings humour and a touch of cabaret to his portrayal of the two doctors treating Diana.
"it was hard not to be charmed by the zeal of the performers and the ambition of Whimsical Productions in taking on such a big production."
It is wonderful to be able to watch the small band and orchestra to the side of the stage perform the many musical numbers that tell the story, under the musical direction of Gianna Cheung. The choreography (Michael Osborne) peaks with the humorous show tunes like ‘It’s Gonna Be Good’ – the ironic prelude to a predictably disastrous dinner where Diana meets her daughter’s new boyfriend. In fact, there is a good deal of humour in this show, particularly in the early scenes, and the audience lapped it up.
Production designer Adelaide Tustian, delivered a versatile stage set in the small ARA Theatre at Darling Quarter in Sydney, reflecting her skills shown as part of Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Young Wharfies’ program in 2021.
There is much to admire about this production and its young cast and crew, but the overall effect of a running time of two and a half hours, and a fair amount of repetition of story points, was that the tunes began to blend into each other and sound same-y, and the performances veered into the territory of melodrama. The show started its life Off-Broadway and has been performed by several Australian companies, and one wonders whether the length was also a drawback for these productions.
Nevertheless, it was hard not to be charmed by the zeal of the performers and the ambition of Whimsical Productions in taking on such a big production. More to come from everyone involved in this show, no doubt.
CREATIVE TEAM EEZU TAN - Co-Director MARIE-JO ORBASE - Co-Director GIANNA CHEUNG - Music Director ROSANNA LAM - Assistant Music Director ANGELIQUE RIOU - Stage Manager ADELAIDE TUSTIAN - Production Designer RAVEN JOY BOWER - Sound Designer/Operator DOM HORT - Lighting Designer/Operator MELODY DUAN - Artistic Director MATTHEW YUEN - Producer MICHAEL OSBORNE - Producer/Choreographer VERONICA CLAVIJO - Team Assistant CLARA CHUNG - Production Assistant SHONDELLE PRATT - Intimacy Consultant (Key Intimate Scenes) CAST CLAIRE PERRY - Diana SEBASTIAN NELSON - Dan CHAYA OCAMPO - Natalie JACEN BENNETT - Gabe LIAM FAULKNER-DIMOND - Henry MARCUS RIVERA - Dr Madden/Dr Fine CLAIRE BRODERICK - Diana (Standby) ALEXANDRA GONZALEZ - Natalie (Standby) VINCENT HUYNH - Gabe (Standby) CHRIS RUTTER - Henry (Standby) NOUNE KHAMO - Dr Madden/Dr Fine/Dan (Standby)
Music by TOM KITT
Book and Lyrics by BRIAN YORKEY
Next to Normal is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).
This production contains strobe lighting, strong language, sexual references, drug use, adult themes, references to self-harm and suicide. Recommended for ages 16+. If Next to Normal raises any concerns for you following the performance, additional services 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.
works in the most creative and diverse way possible. Through the company, Melody was producer for Found! A Musical Parody Of Lost, The Things I Could Never Tell Steven and The Theory Of