By: Curtis Stochl & Emily Weber
First let us begin by saying that we attended this show on Friday night, the day that House of Cards premiered on Netflix, so you know it had to be good to get us out of the house.
Attending a show at TCR is a delight and there are so many places nearby the theater you can eat and have a drink before or after the show. We visited both White Star Ale House for a drink before the show, and Need Pizza after the show (for a #RestaurantWeekSpecial– clam & artichoke heart pizza!). Curtis also wants to emphasize that he always feels like he can go to a show at TCR in jeans and not feel out of place, which is a huge win for men who like the arts but don’t like to get fancy. Here’s to Cedar Rapids for making a Friday night at the theater feel just right.
So, Next to Normal.
The musical is an ensemble cast of six characters: mother, father, daughter, son, daughter’s boyfriend & therapist, who are all struggling with the mother’s mental health fight in different ways. As Diane, the mother, battles a 16-year-long struggle with manic depression, every member of the family feels as though they are holding the family unit together through their own efforts, just trying to “get it right.” The father by aiming to keep everyone cheerful, the daughter (Natalie) by working hard, boyfriend (Henry) by helping Natalie not fall apart, the various therapists and doctors by always coming up with another cure. A main focal point of the show is Natalie, the 16-year-old hard-working daughter who believes she can study, practice piano, and overachieve her way out of the tough life she’s been thrust into. Nikki Stewart who played Natalie did a fantastic job. It was Natalie’s moments with Diane that really carry the emotional through-line of the show.
You may not guess it from the subject matter, but Next to Normal is a rock musical with lots of energy and loudness. This is an area where Curtis and I disagree about the show, not that this arena is within TCR’s control. Curtis feels the show would have been stronger as a straight drama, rather than a musical (this is almost always his belief, though, with musical theater). I disagree, I don’t feel the audience could handle the heightened emotions of the shows’ themes without the relief of the punchy, energetic music. It’s a tough show as it is. Many sniffles coming from the audience during this one.
Let’s talk about the technical qualities of the show. This was an area where TCR’s production really shined. We’ve actually seen this show once before, performed in a larger city, and we thought TCR’s production was much better.The set is simple but beautiful: a suburban house with three vertical levels cut open in the front so the viewer can see straight inside. You can see the family exposed inside at all angles. Color and light were also done really well. The set and props are gray or white, except certain items (pills, memory box, spotlights on certain characters) that are highlighted in bright, vibrant colors. Dramas like this that can focus on the story and have a simple production (without being a big to-do) are a real strength of theaters the size of TCR. All the focus is put on the story and the emotion of the characters. It was very well done.
We highly recommend seeing this show before it’s gone. Tickets are still available for Saturday & Sunday 5th-6th, as well as next weekend, Friday-Saturday the 11th-12th. Buy your tickets online and use the special code given by TCR so part of the proceeds will benefit a local human service organization. It’s great to see TCR support the community in this way. Kudos for being a community partner.
I can’t lie about the fact that this story left me, as an audience member, feeling a little helpless. If you’re living in Iowa at the moment, you’re probably hearing about the mental health and disability service funding that the state is lacking. Maybe you’re wondering what you can do to make a difference. I would bet, when you see this show you’ll want to do something to help. Consider reaching out to some of the community partners TCR is working with and see what you can do. Nothing is too small to make an impact: Tanager Place, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Abbe Center for Community Mental Health, and Foundation2.
This show may not be a feel-good, but it will make you feel like you should try to do some good.
Some recommendations from Curtis on films that people who enjoy this show might be interested in:
Inside Out. Next to Normal is sort of a grown-up Inside Out.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next (which is referenced in the show)
and any Darren Aronofsky film.
It’s tough watching people fight their way out of a hole, only to fall back in. But it’s a story that’s real and relevant.