Undoubtedly, the best musical of 2013

Undoubtedly, the best musical of 2013
Sally Ann Triplett (centre) in the lead role is a bundle of high energy, raw nerves and heartbreaking emotions. And she is supported by a strong cast.

SINGAPORE - There are just three more months to the end of the year, but it's fairly safe to say that Pangdemonium's production of Next To Normal will turn out to be the best musical of 2013, and that its extraordinary achievements will be unsurpassed by any other this year.

Stunningly acted and sung, impeccably designed and sharply choreographed, Next To Normal tells a most unusual story of a woman named Diana (played by West End star Sally Ann Triplett) who suffers from bipolar disorder, and lives day to day on some strange rollercoaster ride of emotions that she's rope-bound to.

While conventional wisdom may have it that the subject of mental illness is best tackled in a sober drama, pure eccentric genius has instead created a rock musical with an electric soundtrack that bounces giddily from ballads to rock songs to reflect her volatile state of mind.

Director Tracie Pang has taken the challenging Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and mounted a splendid production with nary a false note - except maybe in the too-pat final moment.

In her lead role of Diana, Triplett is absolutely phenomenal. She is a bundle of high energy, raw nerves, heartbreaking emotions and Lucille Ball goofiness.

And she is supported by a strong cast comprising Adrian Pang as her husband, Nathan Hartono as her son, Julia Abueva as her daughter, Linden Furnell as her daughter's boyfriend and Juan Jackson as her doctor.

Theatre journalists often joke among themselves that Adrian Pang is the "Meryl Streep of Singapore" because he does nearly everything well - dramas, comedies, Shakespeare, Australian accents and trashy movies. So it says a lot when Pang turns out to be the least riveting presence here, outshone as he is by the remarkable musical gifts of the others.

Abueva delivers Superboy and the Invisible Girl heartwrenchingly well, while Hartono's pitch-perfect rendition of I'm Alive stays with you long after the show. Furnell is a fine and natural songbird, while Jackson's booming baritone cuts through the room like the opening bars of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

This reviewer left a matinee show astonished and moved, half wishing he could return for the evening show to experience it all over again.

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