Posts Tagged ‘N2N

20
Apr
13

Next To Normal

Next to Normal

Music by Tom Kitt and Book & Lyrics by Brian Yorkey

Oscar Theatre Company

QPAC Cremorne

18th April – 4th May 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

It’s got to be one of our greatest fears, up there with shark attacks, road accidents, plane crashes and public speaking; the prospect of losing our mental faculties has got to be one of the most terrifying things in a lifetime. I’m already terrified of losing my memory. Maybe it’s why I write. Maybe it’s why I Instagram. Maybe it’s why I married Sam (Mr XS has a memory like an elephant, which makes up for mine, which is more comparable to a butterfly with an average life span of seven or so days). Maybe it’s why The Notebook feels so personal and I’m unable to watch it without crying my eyes out and leaving a pot of tea to go cold. EVERY TIME. And we’re not even going to mention Silver Linings Playbook.

 

Theatre is a mirror. And what I see in Next to Normal is a woman who lost control a long time ago. And nothing anybody can do will help her regain it. That’s terrifying.

 

In Australia we know that one in four people suffer from a diagnosed mental health condition. I know; I’ve linked to a source that states it’s one in five (the 2007 ABS figure) but did you know that Sam has a day job in the upper echelons of STEPS Group Australia? He says it’s now one in four. And I believe him. Think about that. That’s somebody you know (or several people you know). Or…it’s you.

 

We also know that the statistics are usually the last we hear of it. Chronic depression and mental illnesses, more often than not, just don’t rate a mention. In fact, there’s an awful lot of discussion about discussing mental illness. We’ve all shared the Facebook meme or re-tweeted somebody’s sensitive plea for greater tolerance, support and understanding of mental illness (R U OK?). Terrific! Great job! Now, where’s our greater tolerance, support and understanding of mental illness?

 

Standing in this room,

Well I wonder what comes now.

I know I have to help her,

But hell if I know how.

And all the times that I’ve been told

The way her illness goes.

The truth of it is no one really knows.

 

– Dan Goodman, Next to Normal

 

The Pulitzer Prize winning Next to Normal boasts an intelligent book, which gives us a glimpse into the simple horrors of living every day in an unstable way, and great insight into what it must feel like to live with a mentally unstable person. The impact on loved ones is horrendous, and the end result of long-term mental illness can be disastrous on several levels.

 

549701_10151373546983379_1584428554_nIf you happened to come across, as I did (nerd alert), the reviews of the original Off-Broadway production in 2008, you might have noticed among them, the Observer’s John Heilpern’s reflection on the show as being “kitschy, twitchy, depressing”. And perhaps it was, in its second life, Off-Broadway before a few (more) rewrites. The greatest challenge of staging any theatrical piece is surely to bring it into a place of relevance for the actors and audience and in this director Emily Gilhome has outdone herself. Resisting the temptation to take certain characters and scenarios completely off the scale of believability, as may have been the case in earlier productions elsewhere, Gilhome gives us a beautifully realised vision. This Next to Normal is astutely directed and unflinchingly lays bare the bones of depression, the breakdown of the family unit, the medical and pharmaceutical shenanigans along the way, and suicide. Mr Heilpern should see this production. It’s disturbing.

 

The bitter brilliance of Next to Normal is that it doesn’t answer any of our questions about mental illness or about the wide range of treatment options available. In fact, it sees us walking away with even more questions. This theatrical piece is in fact a shattered mirror. Can you see something of yourself? Terrifying.

 

On opening night, the opening number (Just Another Day) suffered from a couple of sound and pitch issues, and for me, what came across as unusually (for an opening night) low energy. However, to anyone unfamiliar with the show it was probably fine; a gentle start, as if we had the support band on stage (and the band actually IS on stage and you know I love seeing the band on stage!) to psyche us up and help ease us into a plot that then puts us through the wringer. A tip for anybody who hasn’t yet watched the YouTube clips of other productions of Next to Normal… don’t. See this production first. I’m sure that my early disappointment was only due to my obsession, which I have mentioned in a previous post, with the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions.

 

Magically, the sound improved after interval, as it so often does at QPAC.

 

Let’s talk about this wonderful, spirited, talented cast. I love the people Oscar is able to bring out of the woodwork. Actually, of course we’ve seen most of them somewhere before but in Oscar’s hands, I suspect we’re seeing much more of that which they’re capable. You’ll notice I have a couple of bones to pick but don’t worry, there’s nothing that takes away from the overall impact of the show; it’s exceptional. Every performer here has taken their role by the throat and given it a good shake before stepping inside the skin of it, almost like the demon in the underrated, unnerving movie Fallen *shivers*

 

Anyway, I have to tell you that my new favourite performer in Brisbane is the insightful Siobhan Kranz, who we saw as Wendla in Oscar’s 2011 production of  Spring Awakening, another Queensland premiere. Unfathomably, Kranz mentions in her bio a desire to forge a career BEHIND THE SCENES in the music industry but I hope this ambition remains unrealised for a good while yet. Sorry, Siobhan. Her Natalie is petulant, resistant and finally forgiving and supportive, the last man standing so to speak, necessarily becoming her father’s rock. A faultless performer in this instance, Kranz is a keeper.

 

Tom Oliver (whose hilarious performance as Ron Weasley in A Very Potter Musical was just SO GOOD) beautifully underplays Natalie’s stoner boyfriend, Henry. These two are perfectly matched and together they proffer a true sense of optimism and the importance of keeping hold of hope, which I’ll come back to later. I know. Bear with me. Make a coffee if you must. Henry was Sam’s favourite character. Or, Oliver was Sam’s favourite performer. He’s not sure and the fact that he is unsure about how to phrase that tells me that Oliver is going to be a fave for many more patrons. I should also mention that his appearance in Next to Normal is in between international engagements so we are lucky to have him for this strictly limited Brisbane season. With his (Hey) duets with Kranz – there are three of them – Oliver takes us safely each time into the relative calm of the eye of the storm, while chaos continues to swirl all around them.

 

 

James Gauci, in a beautifully gauged act of confidence and charisma (we expect nothing less from this performer now) plays both Diana’s doctors. Gauci gets it just right, giving us the perfect blend of scary rock star and genuinely concerned medical professional. There’s a lovely, gentle moment towards the end of the show, when he connects with Dan Goodman, and we see how well he fits the shoes of this second character particularly. And look, I’m just putting it out there; as much as I love to see Brisbane talent stay in Brisbane…what is Gauci still doing in Brisbane?! Let’s hope we see one of my favourite overachievers in front of larger audiences in a bigger city sometime soon. Sure, of course, if that’s what HE wants.

 

Matt Crowley makes an admirable stage debut in the shoes of Gabe Goodman. Crowley’s brightest moments match the bold as brass lighting levels during I’m Alive, his superb duet with Natalie (one of the best numbers of the night, Superman and the Invisible Girl), and in more silvery (ghostly?) tones during Catch Me I’m Falling. His connection with Dan in the final dramatic moments finally brought reluctant tears to my eyes, and it was with Dan that I sympathised most. Chris Kellet’s sensitive, stoic Dan Goodman, the long-suffering husband, is quietly impressive. In the end, it’s his part in I Am the One (Reprise) that should be enough to bring even the toughest husbands and daddies to tears. (I do hope they go, the husbands and daddies…). To see this side of Kellet is a wonderful surprise, and to give due credit to the newcomer, Crowley plays right alongside him, right up to the devastating conclusion. It’s a cruel end, isn’t it? I HATE IT! I HATE THE END! I sobbed uncontrollably the first eight thousand times I listened to the original soundtrack on loop in my car. Let There Be Light is supposed to be the optimistic, uplifting final reminder that “it gets better”. It’s hope. I hope that works for you.

 

Unexpectedly, Alice Barbery’s Diana Goodman, the woman around whose life the story revolves, left me mostly cold. Gilhome mentions in her program notes that casting is 90% of the director’s job and as a director, of course you work with what you have. If this Diana was the best for the role we have to take Gilhome’s word for it. Barbery’s voice is beautiful, and in its lower register, and the quieter moments of contemplation or concern, absolutely perfect for the role. It’s when we get into the middle range that there are just a couple of problems with the placement, pitch and power of delivery. It’s just that it’s a thinner, more classical sound than one might expect to hear in the context, both in terms of the hardcore content and the soft-rock style of the show.

 

In spite of my harsh assessment, Barbery has an incredibly clear sense of character and she works hard to give us plenty of insight into Diana’s crippling inner battle. Hers is a frantic, busy, utterly confused and eternally wounded woman, and considering the scale and complexity of the role, Barbery gives an awesome performance. To be too critical seems unfair.

 

547534_10152771545950118_7075640_nThe production is nicely staged – it looks sublime – but the design consists of an upper level that lies too far above us and away from us, distancing me more than I would have liked from the intensity of the action and emotion. I was prepared to be in the room with these desperate people, yes indeed, with Gabe in his Off-Broadway-referenced shirtless bathroom moment (of course you know that when the show moved to Broadway Aaron Tveit inexplicably kept his shirt on. Perhaps the producers feared a storming of the stage). Overall, I liked the solid design (Timothy Wallace) but it felt like it wanted more space, and seemed better suited to a venue such as the Playhouse, while the show itself rightly belongs in the intimacy of a space like the Cremorne.

 

It’s hard work to sit through this show (and possibly to read to the end of this review!); it’s emotionally draining. But it’s worth it. Act 1 boasts so many lovely, funny, quirky moments; they are mostly Natalie’s acerbic observations, thanks to Kranz’s characterisation and comic timing, and Diana’s one-liners, delivered deadpan by Barbery and clearly tickling the fancy of not just this housewife and mother. On opening night the giggles abounded!

 

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With Emily Integrity and Humility Gilhome at the helm, Oscar Theatre Company always put on a slick show (she does slick so well). In Next to Normal we see the bar raised once again with superb staging, exquisite attention to detail (check out the medicine bottle labels!), a lighting design that completely supports the story and the characters’ journeys, AND manages to rival that of the Broadway production (Jason Glenwright), a top notch band and MD (David Law), and a combined creative effort that must make a number of aspiring theatre makers think, “THAT is the kind of theatre I want to make!” …or run for the hills. Just saying.

 

There have been times when we’ve worried that maybe we wouldn’t see Oscar again but I think we can safely say now that this dynamic, determined company is here to stay, thanks to the dedicated creative team at its core, the crowd of loyal followers and investors, and the support of QPAC.

 

If you love good theatre it’s easy to follow suit and support them. Buy the tickets. See the show. Tell your friends, tell your family and tell your friendly local barista that they can’t afford to miss Oscar’s Next to Normal. Its impact is long lasting, and the unanswered questions will keep you thinking, talking and feeling deeply for a lifetime, but it’s a short season so be super quick to book because social media is already well on the way to making this show a sell-out!

 

A Social Media Note Courtesy of our good friend Wiki:

 

Twitter (2009)

 

In May 2009, about six weeks into the Broadway Production, Next to Normal began publishing an adapted version of the show over Twitter, a social media network. Over 35 days, the serialized version of the show was published in the form of tweets, short messages utilized by Twitter, a single line from a character at a time. The Twitter performance ended the morning of June 7, 2009, the morning of the 2009 Tony Awards. The initiative earned the musical the 2009 OMMA Award for Best in Show Situation Interactive.

 

03
Apr
13

Valium is my favorite color

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO DIE ALIVE?

Special Offer. No, not to die alive, but to book cheap seats for this phenomenal show! Only until Monday so be quick!

 
Take advantage of this special offer and purchase tickets to Next to Normal for just $30.
This offer is only valid for performances on Thursday 18 April 7.30pm and Saturday 20 April 2.00pm and 7.30pm – hurry, offer expires on Monday 8 April.

 

 

Alice Barbery

This is not Alice Ripley. This is Alice Barbery.

I can’t believe I’ll finally be taking a deep breath, gritting my teeth and sitting through a live production of Next to Normal in just two weeks. In 2009 – 2011 this raw new rock musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt took over Broadway, the Tonys and YouTube. And my place. I became slightly completely obsessed, with the show, with the story, with the woman grappling bipolar disorder, Diana Goodman, created on stage by the incomparable Alice Ripley.

 

 

Largely rewritten after its Off-Broadway debut in 1988 (critics had issues originally with the way the book looked at mental illness and treatment options), Next to Normal opened on Broadway in April 2009, winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (previously won by RENT, also directed by Michael Greif), and three (of eleven nominated) Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

 

 

The Goodman Family

This is the Goodman family. They look normal, don’t they?

Now, from the creative team behind Oscar Theatre Company’s sellout production of Spring Awakening comes the Queensland premiere of Broadway’s Next to Normal.

 

 

Next to Normal is an unflinching insight into the humour and turmoil of an ordinary family grappling with the effects of mental illness. With provocative lyrics and a thrilling rock score, Next to Normal is one of the most ground-breaking new musicals and was chosen as ‘one of the year’s ten best shows’ by critics including The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.

 

 

Director, Emily Gilhome, describes Next To Normal as her most important show to date. “This is a new kind of musical theatre. It‘s real, raw and explores some incredibly important issues”.

 

 

Recently, the issues surrounding mental health have been thrust into the public spotlight following the success of the film Silver Linings Playbook and television show Homeland. Next to Normal explores similar themes and centres its story around the experiences of one family. “It’s not just a show about mental illness,” says Gilhome, “but a story that we hope will resonate far beyond the theatre walls and open up conversations between friends, families, partners and colleagues about a number of issues once considered taboo.”

 

 

A brave and breathtaking show, Next to Normal plays Brisbane for a strictly limited season. Next To Normal plays QPAC from 18th April – 4th May 2013.

 

 

“A work of muscular grace and power. It is much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel-everything musical.” – The New York Times

 

 

Director: Emily Gilhome
Music Director: David Law
Lighting Designer: Jason Glenwright
Cast: Alice Barbery, Chris Kellett, Matt Crowley, Siobhan Kranz, Tom Oliver and James Gauci

 

30
Aug
12

James Gauci in Urinetown

Urinetown

urinetown

– not the place – the musical –

 

We asked James Gauci to tell us about Urinetown – not the place – the musical!

Look, I have to say that he always reminds me a little bit of Chris Evans Captain America

mercmouth.tumblr.com

…oops, sorry; wrong capture (but thanks mercmouth.tumblr.com for posting that one!).

Captain America Chris Evans

Chris Evans as Captain America in The Avengers

But James Gauci is not out to save the world…just Urinetown.

Urinetown opens tonight!

BOOK HERE

Here we go…

James, for those who don’t make the Schonell Theatre at UQ their regular hangout, can you tell us about Underground Productions’ home and a bit of the company history?

 

Underground recently moved permanently to the Schonell Theatre where they stage limited runs of three shows per year. The Schonell is such a great old theatre… seventies vintage with just over 400 seats and home to some of Brisbane’s best community theatre societies. It also happens to be one of Brisbane’s largest stages – it’s even deeper than QPAC’s Lyric. And it has the famous UQ Pizza Caffe attached. I don’t think casts would eat were it not for that glorious establishment.

Underground Productions is the UQ student theatre company, started in the seventies and run under various names through the years. ‘Underground Productions’ has stuck since 1999. Many famous personalities have come up through their ranks, Bille Brown and Geoffery Rush included. Also, I don’t think there’s been a drama student in Brisbane of the last decade that hasn’t heard of Underground’s (in)famous BUGFest!

I’ve come into contact with the company many times before, with friends appearing in dozens of their shows, but this will be my first time performing with them.

 

We last saw you on this stage as Anthony in Ignatians’ production of Sweeney Todd. What drew you to return, this time with Underground Productions, for Urinetown: The Musical?

 

I’ve been extremely lucky this year – Sweeney and Urinetown are two of my all-time favourites. Urinetown is so intelligent, romantic, self-deprecating, self-referential, dry and darkly comic. It runs the gamut of traditional musical theatre musical styles, it’s simultaneously melodramatic and intrinsically human, and it builds up your hope before unexpectedly smashing it to smithereens in a belted full-cast finale. It’s everything I love in theatre.

 

The last water-wise show we saw in Brisbane was La Boite’s Water Wars. Urinetown is a slightly more satirical look at the extreme end of the spectrum, once the world is depleted of natural resources. Can you tell us about the social messages embedded in Urinetown? How has the company approached them and what are the most poignant messages for us today?

 

Urinetown came into being when the show’s creators, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, came across a pay-per-use toilet somewhere in France. They took this concept and applied it to the scholar Thomas Robert Malthus’s idea that humanity’s population growth will be checked by famine and disease, eventually reaching a ceiling. A bit of a stretch, yes! But in practical terms, the show’s fictional city has been drought-stricken for twenty years, and this problem has somewhat humourously manifested itself in the central conceit of the show – that it’s a privilege to pee.

Of course, we’re in an age when sustainability is a concept at the forefront of our political and economic discussion – whether it be in terms of the environment, resources, food or water. You’ll come to the realisation that you’re surreptitiously being given a healthy dose of perspective from all angles throughout the show.

However, if you think all that is terribly boring or way over your head, there’s loads of happy music, good versus evil, hilarious comedy and jazz hands everywhere that will make you forget all about it!

 

What were (Director) Lauren Ware’s priorities in the staging and telling of this story?

 

Lauren is an incredibly gifted young performer in her own right. She’s an accomplished dancer and choreographer, a terribly talented comic actress and can blow your socks off with her natural mezzo belt. The best part about this is that she’s so sensitive to the performers themselves whilst illustrating the concept she has for the show. Her priorities have been clean and professional execution of the music, comedy and choreography (I didn’t know my Achilles Tendons could be sore like that…) while maintaining the grounded and honest storytelling that is necessary for the show.

Urinetown is sometimes melodramatic, bordering on pantomime, but always honest. She’s managed to strike the balance extremely well in my opinion.

 

What’s your favourite message in the show?

 

There is so much delightfully meaningful/meaningless rhetoric that comes out of Bobby Strong’s mouth that it’s hard to pin it down to one idea! But I’m a total sap when it comes down to it so I choose ‘follow your heart’. Being true to yourself is all you can really, truly do, and it allows Bobby to live entirely without regret.

Although, as you’ll see, there always consequences to one’s actions… another message that you’ll have to see the show to get!

 

Will we leave the theatre inspired to finally commit to water-saving habits, like turning off the tap when we brush our teeth?

 

Oooh, hard to say. Probably not – the message is a little bit more complex, thankfully – but you should be doing that anyway! You’ll certainly never take a free public toilet for granted ever again.

 

So you turn off the tap when you brush your teeth?

 

Oh yes, absolutely. A combination of good parenting and many years of Sesame Street brainwashing. Youtube ‘Don’t Waste Water’ if you’re ready for a hit of nostalgia.

 

 

The book is pretty wry. At a time when Brisbane is embracing all things meta-theatrical, can you talk about the Brechtian influences of the show and how they have influenced aspects of the show such as design, staging, direction etc? 

 

It’s funny to think of Brecht when looking at Urinetown. All of the elements are there – the broken fourth wall, the minimalistic functional staging, the sensational themes and preposterous prepositions – but it’s not what I’d consider ‘traditionally’ Brechtian, Dialectical, Epic, or whichever term you prefer. For me, instead of being alienated from the action and remembering that I am in fact sitting in a theatre being told a story, I find that I escape into the world, become vastly more invested in the characters, find the comedy that much more hilarious, and the messages hit home much harder. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower.

Brecht may have used narrators and chorus, but he certainly wasn’t one to stage spectacular melodrama! Having said that, I think he would have (possibly secretly) enjoyed Urinetown. 

 

What is it that made this show a Broadway hit?

 

Incredible and deceptively complex music, a spectacularly hilarious and poignant script, and most importantly a totally original idea. Its grassroots origins also helped I think… the show started at an improv group, then went to the New York Theatre Fringe Festival, then Off-Broadway, then Broadway and Tony Awards. It’s the little show that could. And it did!

 

James Gauci Bobby Strong

 

Tell us about Bobby Strong.

 

He’s your textbook hero – a disenfranchised youth, an underdog of society working for ‘the man’ who suddenly has the hopes of an entire community thrust upon him. He loves his family and his friends, but finds it so difficult to reconcile that with his job as an Assistant Custodian of the local Public Amenity where he takes the cash they’ve scraped together just to go to the loo.

His flaw though is his naivety. Sometimes it’s easier to know what’s ‘right’ than what’s ‘best’, but he doesn’t care. Or understand. He’s so adorable.

 

What drives him? Is it the free toilets or is there something more? 

 

It’s so simple to him. He cares so much for the people of his community that he has no choice but to rally them to action. He wants the people to pee for free because the people are free!

 

Have you ever paid to use a toilet in Europe (or do you have a disastrous turnstile-leaping story for us)?

 

Thankfully my stories of toilet tragedy have been few and far between. I think the closest I can gather would be taking a wee as a little kid while standing in a green ants nest. It was only fair – I peed on them, so they peed on me. Difference being that there were hundreds of them. And they pee acid. Yowch.

 

Is there anything else we should know about Urinetown, Underground Productions or what you’re up to next?

 

With Urinetown and Underground fairly covered, next up for me will be Oscar Theatre Company’s Queensland Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, scheduled for the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC next April. I’m very proud to be working with five of Brisbane’s most insanely talented musical theatre performers. I couldn’t resist seeing the original cast twice when I was visiting Broadway a couple of years ago so I’ll be taking great pleasure in re-creating the roles of Dr Madden and Dr Fine.

Funnily, I think it could be the closest I’ll ever get to actually using my psychology degree.

 

Chookas, James! We hope you enjoy a wonderful season. x

 

Urinetown