Eric Woodall’s lifelong career began as a child performer. For the past two decades, he has traveled the country as a teacher, director and, for the past 16 years, as a successful Broadway casting director with Tara Rubin Casting, casting shows like Dear Evan Hansen, Aladdin, Les Misérables, and The Phantom of the Opera. In November he will leave the bustling Big Apple to return to his roots in Raleigh, NC, to take on a new role as the Artistic Director of North Carolina Theatre. He joins us to talk about directing the upcoming Next to Normal.
CM: Hi, Eric! Welcome back to Casa. You’ve directed several shows here, especially two of my favorites, Big River (2013) and West Side Story (2017). What keeps you coming back?
EW: It’s an honor for me to return to Casa every time I’m asked. One of the things I love most about working here at Casa is the ability to reexamine material. It’s something that Wally Jones (President and Executive Producer) and I have come to really love about working with each other. We can take material that’s been around for quite a while and see how it’s still relevant today. And an example of that was last season’s West Side Story, which is so relevant with so many things that are happening today. We were able to really highlight the friction of different people just because there are differences in their skin color. We represented that through one group wearing all white and one group wearing all black. And it turned out to be a really successful production and something I’m really proud of.
CM: We are too! Shows like West Side Story have been around long enough to have widespread popularity. Why should people who don’t know Next to Normal come see it?
EW: In regional theatre, there is very often a canon of shows that feel successful and get produced over and over again. That’s wonderful, because they are great shows. It’s rare that there is a brand-new show that comes along that merits that same sort of reaction – a new show in the last 10 years that’s going to be around forever. Next to Normal is one of those because of the Pulitzer Prize-winning material. This incredible story, this incredible rock contemporary music that is so moving and so beautiful – it makes a place for Next to Normal to be among the greats.
CM: Next to Normal is an unflinching look at a suburban family struggling with the effects of mental illness, which is not an easy subject to talk about.
EW: Mental illness is a subject that is very close to my heart. It is something my family has gone through with different family members. It’s hard because with other diseases, we talk about their cures. We talk about having them. With mental illness there’s so often this shame that comes along with it. A shame that comes along with admitting that you have it. A shame that comes along with admitting that you’re going through the treatment. A musical like Next to Normal allows us to normalize it, at least a little bit, and say it’s ok. It’s ok to say that you’re going through some of these hard things. It’s ok to say if you have these struggles. But if this musical made one person question it who needed to question it, and that person was able to seek help because they saw this musical, our jobs are done.
CM: Sounds like a heavy night in the theatre.
EW: The music – it’s not all sad, and it’s not all difficult to watch. There is light. There is hope. There is joy in rooting for these characters and in seeing yourself in a person who is going through a really difficult time. Although the subject matter in the show might not be everyone’s journey, there’s the universal nature of family going through very difficult things. Loss, pain and regret. Questioning choices. All of the things that shape our lives.
CM: What about this production will be different than the Broadway show or other regional productions? Or will it be similar?
EW: I think it will feel different than a lot of other musicals because it’s going to be very streamlined. That design is on purpose. So that the attention can really be zoomed in on this nuclear family. By having that sort of sparse palette, it’s going to allow the audience to feel like they have this birds-eye view into the brains of the characters.
CM: Next to Normal debuted on Broadway in 2010, so it is contemporary. Has enough time passed to re-explore the material?
EW: Although we’re not approaching the material in a way of reexploring it, we’re still invested in the message behind it. Not to bang people over the head with something that feels too heavy. But just to say hey, this is something that you can relate to today. You in your lives today, can come to the theatre and feel like I’m not alone. That’s something I go through, and it’s cool to see that you go through it too. To me, that’s what theatre is.
Winner of three Tony® Awards, including Best Musical Score, and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, Next to Normal runs November 3-11. Tickets start at $41 and can be purchased by calling the Casa Mañana Box Office at 817.332.2272, x3 or clicking here.