|Brendan Hansen and Rachael Beck|
Black Swan State Theatre Company
Directed by Adam Mitchell
Musical Director David Young
Designed by Bruce McKinven
With Shannen Alyce, Rachael Beck, James Bell, Michael Cormick, Brendan Hanson and Joel Horwood
Heath Ledger Theatre
Until Nov 22
I’m sure we’ve all been waiting for a rock musical about bipolar depressive disorder with delusional episodes, and now we have it – Next to Normal (at the Heath Ledger Theatre, directed by Adam Mitchell).
Certainly the Americans, who are miles ahead of the game in such matters, were. When the Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey-penned show hit Broadway in 2009 it was showered with awards (including a rare Pulitzer Prize for a musical) and rewarded with record-breaking box office takings. It’s since travelled the world; this is its fifth Australian staging.
It’s a strange beast. One thing that it’s not, despite the tag and the publicity, is a rock musical; if these songs, most of which sound like scrunched up and binned attempts to write another Defying Gravity, are rock, then Angus Young wrote Jesus Christ Superstar.
I’m not even sure that it’s a musical in the accepted sense. Oh, there’s music, lots of it; there are 42 songs in the show’s 130-odd minutes, surely a record, but that leaves precious little time for anything else. The music serves no purpose other than to carry the text. Dance is discarded entirely, spoken dialogue all but. So is humour (there was originally some, I read, but it was excised in the pursuit of cohesion and a “responsible” approach to its depiction of its hard, dangerous subject).
It as if we are at two shows at once: one, a dark drama on the devastation caused by mental illness, I’ll gladly see again; the other, the one with all the watery music, I’ll happily pass on.
Read the complete review in The West Australian