On February 26, Next to Normal opens at Theatre Cedar Rapids. It’s the sixth show of their 82nd season. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards in 2009 (it won three). Most exciting for local music fans, though, is the fact that it will be the 20th show directed at Theatre Cedar Rapids by musical director Janelle Lauer.
This is an exciting milestone for Lauer, who has been TCR’s musical muse since 2009, when she directed the music for Hair at the theatre’s Lindale space (while they were displaced due to the 2008 flood). Next to Normal, which starts rehearsals today, will be the first show at TCR where she won’t be paired with directing partner, and TCR Artistic Director, Leslie Charipar. Lauer isn’t at all fazed. She says, of the show’s director Angie Toomsen, that she has “loved everything she’s done,” and adds that she is “pretty excited about this new collaboration.” Other notable shows that she music directed for the theatre include 2014’s epic 80th season capper Les Misérables and this author’s personal favorite, 2012’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a raucous political show that Lauer says “always made me feel like standing up and throwing my fist in the air against the establishment.”
Directing is hardly the full extent of Lauer’s musical prowess. She’s been performing on stage since age 3, and has been a fixture in the Cedar Rapids music scene (and beyond) for many years. She is a founding member of SPT Theatre, a powerhouse institution whose tickets always sell out fast. The members are currently prepping for mid-January’s A Modern Salon at Brucemore, their 13th annual event at the historic mansion. Lauer also tours nationally with with Jane Pini and Lynne Rothrock, in Divapalooza, and has released three CDs of solo material, with plans for a fourth in the coming year.
Music hasn’t always been her top goal, but life keeps redirecting her towards it. She started college with dreams of being a political journalist, but an opera scholarship left her little time for much else besides music. She’s tried her hand at a variety of occupations, but music always seems to call her home. Teaching (she’s been giving private lessons since 2009) and music directing bring her a special joy. “[T]he thing that makes me the most jazzed,” she says, “is seeing a student, or a cast member of a show, light up when they do something vocally they didn’t they were capable of … and that I, somehow, was a part of making that happen.” Of music directing specifically, she notes that “being a part of the production team that puts these stories together is one of the most magical aspects to my life.”
The lifelong musician distills her thoughts on the business down to a few brief pieces of advice for up-and-comers: “Be true to who YOU are, don’t let the industry change you into someone you don’t recognize, rise with integrity, mistakes ARE perfection, and wherever the music takes you … let it be.”