Contributor: Nathalia Kasiha, Kevin Aldrian (@sad_eyes0211, @kevinaldrian)
On August 20th, Jaksical had the opportunity to see another Jakarta Youth Performing Arts (JYPA) production of Next to Normal at Usmar Ismail Hall, Jakarta. After their most recent show “Still Life,” JYPA is back again with another show that deals with mental health issues, the Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway musical “Next to Normal” by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt. The story revolves around the Goodman family, consisting of a depressed dad, a daughter who feels invisible despite her brilliance, and a mom who has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder – but turns out that doesn’t really cover everything. The only thing that makes them similar is that they are all trying to do their best to “hold it all together,” despite the challenging condition that faced the family. For such a heavy story that addresses grief, depression, suicide attempt, drug abuse, ethics in modern psychiatry, and the underbelly of suburban life, “Next to Normal” sure was a lot to take, but still a fresh air to the musical landscape in Indonesia.
As we entered the venue, we immediately recognized the set – it was the one they used for Still Life, with some adjustments. Structurally speaking, we could see how it somehow resembles the original Broadway set with the blocks of separated room – and they didn’t forget the iconic pole! The room setting was a lot homier with the interior furniture, especially in the living and the dining rooms. The backdrop was the blueprint of the house in the equally iconic purple color that our mind has associated with the show title.
Next to Normal had a small cast of six people with no ensemble and/or swings. We assume the small size of the cast gives all six of them a more spacious room to own the stage – it’s inarguable that their stage presence was astounding. Aisya Nabila who lead the cast as she portrayed Diana Goodman elivered such a stunning performance. The way she brought herself on stage portraying a much older character with such grace and talent made us feel like we were watching a legit professional show that exceeds our everyday local productions. A lot of aspects about the character were complex and posed great challenges to tackle, but Aisya managed to pull everything off effortlessly. The emotions she put in her character was beautifully conveyed to the audience in the way she delivered her lines and sang her numbers, as she brought us with her in Diana’s emotional roller coaster. In addition to her exceptional performance, Aisya also co-directed her castmates alongside with Kyla Christie.
One of the characters that stole our attention best was Dr. Fine / Dr. Madden, who was portrayed by Aqsa Suryana. We were so excited that JYPA decided to go on a gender-blind casting for these characters. Aqsa’s characters might not be the at the center of the spotlight, but her stage presence was what we admired the most. The way she brought herself with such grace, professionalism and coldness – as a Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden would – was astonishing. Our mind was blown with the way she delivered all her lengthy lines as she explained the medical prescription she gave for Diana in an intensely detailed description.
As for the portrayal of Dan Goodman, Mohammed Harmoun did an incredible job in channelling all Dan’s emotions, especially through his acting. Having seen Mohammed’s performance in Still Life, we couldn’t help but notice the improvements he made in his singing in just a span of two short months. His expertise in acting was a powerful tool that he utilized in delivering his lines and melodies, and we felt that. It was imprinted in our minds the way Mohammed brought all the chills in our bones toward the end of the show after Diana left him. We may or may not have shed some tears during I Am the One reprise.
Divanka Djamalus brought the Natalie Goodman to life – her raging, fluctuating teenage angst with a balancing amount of vulnerability made her character much more relatable to our day to day life. Divanka nailed her delivery of all Natalie’s sassy lines with her original acting choices and comedic timing – making her lines a lot more ironic but you couldn’t help but let out a chuckle or two. Her chemistry with Joseph Jefferson who played Natalie’s love interest, Henry to life was off the roof. Joseph was literally the single diffuser in the show. He brought some ease to the tension of the show’s crestfallen storyline through his character’s obliviousness and animated physical antics – he truly was the perfect Henry. Both Divanka and Joseph brought justice to Natalie and Henry’s characters.
The character of Gabe Goodman is the most ground-breaking, genius portrayal of mental illness – in the form of a 17 years old boy in her mother’s delusion. In this production, the iconic Aaron Tveit-originated character was delivered by Audric Ramos. His ease and familiarity with the stage was worth an appreciation – with all the swinging and leaning and edging. We were just glad that there was no mishaps throughout the entire show, considering that there was no safety rails whatsoever. Gabe’s connection with his mother was captured really well through both performers’ portrayals. Audric’s vocal character was somewhat similar to those of Tveit’s – which makes him fit into his character’s shoes even better. Although there were some parts in which Audric’s voice was blasting too loud during some of his belty numbers during act 1 – which could have been due to technical issues – his overall performance was good. A promising musical talent, we would love to see Audric steal more of the spotlight even better with a little added attention to detail with his expression, gestures, and timing.
Onto the more technical side, we usually prefer a live music accompaniment in musical shows in the name of experience, but as this was a licensed musical adaptation, they made use of the provided minus one track. However, we understand the difficulty of performing an entire musical with a pre-recorded instrumental track, because the cast needs to deliver their dialogues precisely on a specific timing to sync with the music, in order to start their singing parts on cue. And the whole Next to Normal cast nailed it! They managed to deliver all the dialogues and singing in perfect timing.
The one thing that was missing was the sound quality in Act 1, making it a slight problem to hear the dialogues and lyrics clearly. However, it seemed like they managed to fix it later in the second act although the track was noticeably a little too quiet. Despite of it, everything was perfect sound-wise. Adding onto that, on the lighting side, we would like to appreciate the lighting design team. They truly lit up the stage beautifully with the colors and patterns – making the set much more alive. It was a loss that there were some missed timing with the follow spot, which caused some confusion for the audience.
Despite all the minor inconvenience, we really enjoyed this production. Having seen several of JYPA’s previous productions, we can really say that Next to Normal was their best production to date. It could have been the story, it could’ve been the talents, it could’ve been the set, it could’ve been the music. But one thing that we are most certain of is that none of it could have worked out on its own individually. JYPA did a great job in picking out the title, producing the show, and harmonizing all the elements that make their production of Next to Normal bring them to a whole new level of achievement and success. We would like to extend our appreciation to the cast and crew and the production team! We genuinely hope that the show would’ve run for a little bit longer – preferably on weekends. It is with great sincerity that we hope JYPA could bring Next to Normal back someday in the future. It has only been a couple of weeks, but we are already looking forward for a revival!