Next to Normal Creators Kitt and Yorkey React to Pulitzer Win

News   Next to Normal Creators Kitt and Yorkey React to Pulitzer Win
 
Just a few hours after the Tony-winning musical Next to Normal was named the 2010 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama April 12, Playbill.com spoke with its composer and librettist-lyricist, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, respectively.
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey
Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Kitt and Yorkey admit they weren't focused on the looming Pulitzer Prize announcement. "We weren't until yesterday," Yorkey said. "We heard some rumors that we might be 'part of the conversation.' That was the first we heard. Even so you try to put it out of your mind. It's like the Tonys."

Kitt, who serves as musical supervisor and arranger of the new Green Day musical American Idiot on Broadway, was at the St. James Theatre when Next to Normal producer David Stone called to tell him the good news. "I immediately got up and started yelling in expletives that you probably can't print," he laughed. "I made my way out into the lobby where [American Idiot producer] Tom [Hulce] gave me a big hug and Michael Mayer (director of American Idiot) came and found me. Michael actually got on the 'God mic' and announced to everyone in the theatre that I had won with Brian for Next to Normal. So the whole cast and crew came out into the lobby and were giving me big hugs, and it was a really beautiful moment. I had a little bit of fear that it hadn’t actually happened and suddenly I would have to break it to everyone that it wasn't true, and that would be embarrassing."

Meanwhile, Yorkey confessed: "I, in contrast, was sitting at home at my desk in my underwear when David Stone called. It was thrilling."

Kitt also reflected on previous Pulitzer-winning musicals. "Without Rent and Stephen Sondheim, there is no Next to Normal," he said. "I think that we've always been moved and inspired to write material that maybe says something a little different through musical theatre. I think at the very beginning, when we set out to write this, we just wanted to write something that mattered to us, something that felt maybe that it hadn't been explored in musical theatre before. But never could we have imagined in our wildest dreams that we'd be here."

"I think we wanted to take chances," Yorkey added. "We wanted to write something that wasn't safe and didn't seem on the face of it like a commercial hit. And, we learned along the way that that made its road very complicated." The germ of Next to Normal began when the songwriters were collaborating at the BMI workshop and were searching for subject matter for their final project. Yorkey explained, "We wanted to do something that would shake things up a bit. I saw a television report about ECT, about shock therapy, and I said, 'Wow, I didn't know that still goes on.' So I called up Tom and said, 'What about a musical about a woman who suffers from depression and has to go through shock therapy?' And Tom agreed, I don't know why. But thank God he did!"

The musical underwent several incarnations and titles, including Feeling Electric. After initial readings at the Village Theatre in Washington State (where Yorkey served as co-artistic director), Feeling Electric was presented as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival and later transferred Off-Broadway as Next to Normal. The production would receive one more regional bow at Arena Stage before arriving on Broadway in 2008.

The creators acknowledge the work of their producers and director, who helped bring the musical to fruition. "We have to give all the credit in the world to David Stone and Michael Greif and Carole Rothman," Yorkey said. "David and Carole picked up the show and nurtured it. They didn't just produce and give us readings. They helped us come to understand what the show really was. At one early meeting with David and Carole, they said to Tom and I, 'You guys have to decide if this show is about the medicine or about the people.' We realized that we wanted to write a show about people and about what they went through. Once we realized that and started doing that with everyone's help, we started writing something that I think a lot of people recognized themselves in."

The Pulitzer Prize win for Next to Normal brings the Yorkey-Kitt collaboration full circle. The two met while in college at Columbia University where they would write for the Varsity Shows. The Pulitzer Prize announcement is also made annually on the University Campus.

"I can tell you that it's one of the most important things that has ever happened to me," Kitt said of the honor. "To find ourselves here, receiving something that I never dreamed possible is to me another way of the community saying to Brian and I that we created something that matters. To be in line with the shows that have meant so much to us: A Chorus Line, Rent, Sunday in the Park With George… It's gonna take me a while to really process it, but I'm extremely proud. At the end of the day, there's so many people who stuck by this, but I love that I can sit across from Brian Yorkey right now and share this with him. We met when we were in college, and here we are still working and writing together, and that's everything."

The Pulitzer Prize honors will be officially presented May 24 at Columbia University.

The Pulitzer jury recognized Next to Normal for its subject matter and stated that it "expands the scope of subject matter for musicals." The last musical to win the honor was Jonathan Larson's Rent in 1996. Other musicals to earn the Pulitzer include Sunday in the Park With George, A Chorus Line, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Fiorello!, South Pacific and Of Thee I Sing.

Kitt (music) and Yorkey (book/lyrics) penned Next to Normal, which puts a woman's struggle with bi-polar disorder and depression center stage. Next to Normal also explores the raw emotion of a family in crisis.

The two earned a 2009 Tony Award for Best Score, and Kitt was also Tony-honored for Best Orchestrations. Alice Ripley earned a Best Actress Tony Award for her portrayal of Diana Goodman, who attempts to be a wife and mother while trying to overcome her own mental illness.

Next to Normal continues at Broadway's Booth Theatre. The Broadway cast currently features 2009 Tony Award winner Alice Ripley (Side Show, Sunset Boulevard), J. Robert Spencer (original cast of Jersey Boys) and Jennifer Damiano (Spring Awakening) as well as Kyle Dean Massey, Adam Chanler-Berat and Louis Hobson.

A national tour will launch in November at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

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