One of the actors in Singapore who I admire most, both for his talent and for who he is as a person is Adrian Pang. Last night, I had the sheer pleasure of attending the opening night performance of Next to Normal, staged by Pangdemonium!, the theatre company run by Adrian and his wife Tracie (who directed the show). I had been looking forward to this partially because one of my college classmates wrote the score. But I was also excited to see what Adrian and the amazing cast he put together would do with this Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical.
The show was simply amazing. My wife S was in tears through a good half of the show. When it was over, I immediately took to Twitter and Facebook and wrote, “Every single person in Singapore needs to rush to see Next to Normal, showing right NOW at Drama Centre.” And I mean it. Not only is it amazingly well-acted and directed, the story is a powerful one that every person should witness.
In additional hopes to promote this amazing show, I was able to conduct a quick email interview with Adrian, which is below:
Can you tell me as succinctly as possible what Next to Normal is all about?
AP:NEXT TO NORMAL is a powerful, poignant and surprisingly funny musical about a family dealing with mental illness, growing pains and ghosts from their past.
Why did this show resonate with you?
AP: It is a story about love, compassion, struggle, survival and family – issues that everyone can relate to – and also deals with tough challenging subjects in exciting and unique ways. It’s got a a fantastic story, wonderful characters, plus the music is absolutely brilliant! what’s not to like?
How easy or difficult has it been to stage it here in Singapore?
AP: It’s been a challenge to cast this show because it calls for an ensemble that have to be made up of six characters each telling their own very compelling stories dynamically and truthfully through the very challenging music. Sally Ann Triplett holds the whole story together as the lead character, and her role is the toughest – and boy does she knock it out of the ball park! It is also a tough show to see because it is not the traditionally feel-good musical fare that many theatre goers prefer – this musical makes you think and feel and invest your heart in it as an audience – are people wiling to do that? Or do they just want to spend their money to be made to have a few laughs? Getting people to support this tough show has been most challenging. But we have persevered nonetheless, so hopefully word of mouth will bring people to come experience it.
Has this show made you more aware of what people suffering from bipolar disease here in Singapore go through?
AP: Doing this show has certainly made us all much more aware of the condition and, and more understanding of what bipolar sufferers go through. It is such a misunderstood condition and in particular, youth in our community who have bipolar symptoms are being sidelined. This condition is all around us, and mental health is something we cannot take for granted. It affects us all.
I understand you met many people dealing with this when prepping from the show. What have you learnt that you didn’t know before?
AP: Any kind of mental illness is a taboo subject in Singapore, and in our research into bipolar disorders we have made friends with a few individuals who who have shared with us their experience of living with the condition, and it was a real eye-opener for us. Their stories are so jaw-droppingly moving and inspiring. What was just as affecting was hearing stories from care givers of people with bipolar disorder – they really are heroes. We really hope that NEXT TO NORMAL brings the subject of mental illness out in the open, and engenders more awareness and compassion for people with mental issues and brings about more active involvement in our community.
You have a West End star making her stage debut here through this show? Was Ms Triplett already a friend? How did you get her to take part?
AP: Casting the lead role of Diana was probably the toughest challenge in the early part of this process, because we needed a performer who could sing the hind legs off this beast, be able to dance proficiently, as most importantly carry the weight of the acting role, embodying all the highs and lows of the role. its really is a monster of a role and we knew it was going to really tough to find our perfect Diana. We considered a handful of actresses within our immediate reach, and then soon widened our net regionally, and then internationally, and struck lucky when a mutual theatre friend in London suggested we consider Sally Ann. We discovered that she happened to be finishing a show on the West End just in time to join us, and most importantly she was keen to take on this role – it is not a show that has even been staged in London, and this role is very much on the “bucket list” of many actresses! So we are very fortunate to have Sally Ann on board. Plus of course the rest of the cast – Nathan Hartono, Julia Abueva, Juan Jackson, and Linden Furnell – are all insanely talented and really raise the bar for musical theatre to a whole new level.
You’ve been back in Singapore for many years now. Has the arts scene here changed over the years? And have audience tastes changed?
AP: It’s gotten better slowly but surely. Audiences’ tastes have gotten a bit more adventurous, bit it’s bee a very gradual process. What Pangdemonium is striving to do is created work that is challenging but at the same time accessible and relatable, and make people come to realize that theatre can be enlightening and enriching and be entertaining at the same time. It’s always going to be tough, though, so we know we have our work cut out for us for years to come.
I know from speaking with you in the past that you, like many other artists, face many challenges when raising sponsorship and funds in order to stage the shows you put on. Why, in your opinion, should companies and people support the arts?
AP: It’s hard to persuade companies to support the arts simply to support the arts. many companies want to know that, at the very least, they are made to look good doing so, which is fair enough. But for many companies, what they really care about is how supporting the arts is going to increase their business. Which is also understandable, but realistically it is hard to promise that their arts sponsorship dollar is going to translate into ten dollars back for them.
And what areas in the arts world, or let’s say the theatre world, aren’t getting enough support? What’s being overlooked?
AP: Very simply, the only way that theatre can have any hope of surviving is if the authorities believe in their own arts industry enough to put their money where their mouths are and support us financially.
Getting back to the show, why should someone see this? What makes this show the best possible way to spend an evening?
AP: I believe NEXT TO NORMAL will be a very unique musical experience – it is powerful, moving, funny and people will discover something very surprising and perhaps even life-enhancing.
And finally, since this is partially a food-driven site, what are your three favourite restaurants in Singapore and what do you always order there?
AP: 1) Hua Yu Wee on Upper East Coast Road – great seafood and so affordable. we will always order their deep fried baby squid; 2) Peramakan – they have a branch at Keppel Club and another along East Coast: fabulous Peranakan food cooked with love; 3) Tian Tian chicken rice along Joo Chiat Walk: as far as i’m concerned, puts the other in the shade. I always order the beef stroganoff there.
Seriously, GO SEE THIS MUSICAL! You will regret it if you don’t. And you’ll thank me if you do.