N2N Matt Crowley from QLDIt’s hard to imagine a more unlikely musical theatre leading man than Matt Crowley. With his matinee idol good looks and his starring role in the upcoming QPAC production of hit musical Next To Normal, one might assume he’d spent his formative years at a drama school, working hard in preparation for a career as an actor.

In fact, Crowley’s a musical theatre virgin – an active rugby player with the University of Queensland Football Club with a heavy sporting background (as if the impressive physique didn’t give it away).

“This is actually a bit of good luck, the way it’s just landed in my lap,” Crowley told the Star Observer. “I’ve always played music, but never with any serious intention to take it anywhere. I was doing some acoustic gigs around the place with my housemate, and we put one up on YouTube – from there, Emily [Gilhome, Next to Normal’s director] saw it, plucked it from the interwebs and gave me a call to come and audition.”

Crowley’s obviously still feeling his way through this whole acting lark – asked how rehearsals for the mental illness-themed musical were coming along, he described the process as “very demanding and emotionally taxing”, before instantly wondering aloud if he sounded pretentious.

Not at all, Matt. After all, Next to Normal tackles a pretty heavy topic for musical theatre: suburban mother Diana Goodman battles with depression and bipolar disorder, and the play looks at how her illness affects her family.

“I play her son Gabe, who’s a bit of a golden child, an ideal son. He and his mum have a bit of a cheeky, fun relationship, and that’s how I relate to him. He also has a younger sister, Natalie, who falls by the wayside a bit because so much of the family’s attention is focused on Mum and her illness.”

It’s a dark play but, like the spate of recent films tackling mental illness (Silver Linings Playbook, Mental), there’s lightness and brevity throughout.

“The genius lies in the way it’s written. It’s such a heavy issue, and a deeply emotional play. You don’t have to have personal experience with mental illness to connect to it – it’s more about family connections and the way we cope with different things life throws at us,” said Crowley.

The straight-talking sports buff was circumspect about his chances at a continuing career in the theatre, admitting he was already starting to miss his first love.

“I’ve cut back on my rugby at the moment because rehearsals are eating into it, but as soon as the musical’s finished I’ll be right back to training. I’ve had a lot of support from everyone at the club and a bunch of the boys are coming along to opening night,” he said.

“I tell you, it’s nothing like performing in pubs with a guitar!”

INFO: Next to Normal, QPAC, April 18 – May 4. www.qpac.com.au

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