Friday, February 16, 2024




Next To Normal. 

Music by Tom Kitt. Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey. Additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Additional Music by Jule Styne. Creative Team – Jen Hinton, Belinda Hassell and Christopher Benn. Costume design by Lillee Keating. Set design Jen Hinton. Lighting design – Jacob Aquilina (Eclipse) Sound design – James McPherson (Eclipse) Production Manager Benjamin Martin assisted by Kay Liddiard, Stage Manager Rachel Laloz, Repetiteur Brigid Cummins Properties Master – Sophie Hope-White. Band Keys-Brigid Cummins, Drums/Percussion Jenna Hinton, Guitar Chris Bennie, Bass Steven O’Mara, Violin/Keys Bronwyn Potter, Cello Enola Jeffries. Queanbeyan Players. Belconnen Community Theatre. February 15-24 2024.Bookings:

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Dave Smith as Dan and Sarah Hull as Diana
in Queanbeyan Players' Next to Normal

At first glance everything appears normal at the Goodman household.  Mother Diana (Sarah Hull) is bringing in the washing on what appears to be Just Another Day. Husband Dan (Dave Smith) is getting ready for work and children , Gabe (Luke Ferdinands) and Natalie (Kara Murphy) are rushing to school. However, the audience is soon aware that there is something that is not normal when Dan attempts to stop Diana from making sandwishes on the kitchen floor. Diana becomes disorientated and confused and we learn that she is suffering from bipolar disorder. It is here that the plot takes a turn and Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s rock musical Next To Normal becomes a powerful and deeply moving account of a suburban wife and mother’s battle with bipolar illness and her family’s attempt to deal with her swinging moods and confusions.

Luke Ferdinands as Gabe, Sarah Hull as Diana and Dave Smith as Dan

It is not the kind of subject matter that one might expect from this 2008, Tony Award winning musical. It also presents an enormous challenge to any company that would seek to stage such a highly charged and emotionally demanding musical about a prevalent psychological illness. Not only is the cast required to sing with the full force of Kitt’s rock composition, but also capture the emotional and psychological truth of Yorkey’s book and lyrics. Queanbeyan Players have risen superbly to the challenges in their production of Next To Normal at the Belconnen Community Theatre. The choice of venue lends to performances an intimacy that heightens the impact of this heart-wrenching and ultimately heart-warming musical.

Not only is the cast required to sing the difficult verse and chorus elements of rock music in a compelling narrative structure that propels the plot but also deliver an emotional truth that must underlay the relationships and actions of the characters as they confront the challenges faced in the Goodman home. Creative Jenna Hinton and her collaborators Belinda Hassall and Christopher Bennie, accompanied by an excellent creative team of behind the scenes supporters and musicians have created a musical that has enabled the small and perfectly cast performers to shine.

In this tightly knit and skilfully directed ensemble, Hull bears the burden of the demands vocally and emotionally of her role as she struggles with an illness that forces her to seek help from psychiatrist Dr. Madden and psychopharmacist Dr. Fine (both played with well-pitched delineation by Andrew Finnegan). Unsympathetic diagnosis confronts Diana with  suicidal tendencies, shock therapy and drug reliance. Hull is outstanding in the role and thoroughly believable as an ordinary woman trapped in an extraordinary condition. Smith gives an excellent performance as the devoted husband who struggles to balance good intentions with his own battle with depression, while trying to convince everyone that It’s Gonna Be Good. Kara Murphy plays the daughter, confused by a situation she can’t understand, with appreciation of teenage angst and confusion at the attention of Perfect For You boyfriend Henry (John Winfield, played with that naivety of handling teenage emotion).  Luke Ferdinands gives a mercurial performance as the “elephant in the room” and Diana’s hallucination, Gabe.

One imagines that Kitt and Yorkey have had personal experience of dealing with someone with bipolar disorder and understand the challenges that exist. However gruelling this may be, they suggest that there can be hope in the support of family as the characters close this first rate production with an uplifting rendition of Light. There may not be a dry eye in the house so take your tissues and leave with understanding, compassion and hope. This is a must see musical that does Queanbeyan Players proud.

Photography by Ben Appleton (Photox)