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REVIEW OF NEXT TO NORMAL by Douglas Kennedy at JAVEENBAH THEATRE


Rowena Orcullo Ryan and Mitch Walsh.

next to normal

Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Music by Tom Kitt

Directed by Nathan French

Musical Direction by Taylor Holmes

Features Rowena Orcullo Ryan, Lee Stoka,

Yasmin Fitzgerald, Hunter Wall, Peter Santos,

Mitch Walsh.

Javeenbah Theatre Company production

Season 16 September – 1 October 2022.

Bookings: javeenbah.org.au

Duration: 2 hours (plus interval)


A serious story of a suburban housewife’s long battle with mental illness at first glance seems an unlikely choice for an American rock musical. But then there’s more than a few features of next to normal (the stylized lowcase title among them) which makes it a standout show. This Pulitzer Prize winning musical, with minimal dialogue, now having a season at Nerang’s Javeenbah Theatre Company, is a winner despite the odds.

Diana Goodman (Rowena Orcullo Ryan), who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is dealing with grief and depression while her largely loving family watch on with fear and trepidation. The result is a bittersweet confection of mixed emotions, peppered with unintentional humour, which boils over into near tragedy. This show’s sweetness comes with its engaging human narrative, which captures the imagination,

while the bitter pill is taken with the sad reflection that mental illness is so much a part of modern life.


In addition to depression, next to normal explores sensitive issues such as chronic grief, drug abuse, modern psychiatry and suicide. This is all happening in normal suburban life so audiences should be aware that some might find this work disturbing, despite the toe-tapping soundtrack.


Director Nathan French and musical director Taylor Holmes have done a splendid job of weaving the characters together, particularly in the 39 or so musical items which strings the piece together.


It's worth noting that two of the three Tony Awards for next to normal, when it opened back in 2009, were for Best Original Score and Best Orchestration. (The third Tony went to Alice Ripley for Leading Actress in a Musical).




The show opens with mum Diana (Ryan) waiting up for her teenage son Gabe (Hunter Wall) who without giving any spoilers away is the driving force behind the show’s narrative.

However, soon it’s morning when we meet Dad, calm and steady Dan (Lee Stoka) and teenage daughter Natalie (Yasmin Fitzgerald) who is a headstrong student with a passion for music. The other three characters – outside of the family circle – are Henry (Peter Santos) who becomes Natalie’s sweetheart during the show and the progressive doctors treating Diana – Dr. Madden and Dr. Fine (Mitch Walsh).


Each of the six-person cast comes to the production with a solid theatrical background and has a commanding presence on stage. But what works so well is the interaction between the characters as we witness Dad’s struggle to cope and Natalie’s feelings of neglect.

The sibling Gabe has another role to play but everyone knits together in a striking human tapestry.



A special note should be given to the technical creatives including Tony Odling’s set design, which reflects both the mood and structure of the family and Colin Crow’s lighting design, which fits splendidly.


This Javeenbah production is a worthwhile piece of theatre which deserves an audience, but for some it may well touch a raw nerve.


Note: Only 10 musicals have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and apart from NEXT TO NORMAL they include South Pacific, A Chorus Line and Hamilton.



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