Chance and Choice and Risk, Oh My! If/Then Tony Nominees Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey Explore the Roads Traveled (or Not)

By Michael Gioia
07 May 2014

Idina Menzel
Photo by Joan Marcus
Kitt and Yorkey both noted that meeting each other was a small moment that ended up being a life-changing experience. Prior to If/Then, the duo crafted Next to Normal, the critically acclaimed musical — exploring family life and human flaw — that was honored with the 2010 Pulitzer for Drama and a Tony for Best Score, among other accolades.

"I think about the earlier years when Brian and I were writing together, and there were times where we almost stopped — especially with Next to Normal, where it just seemed like it was too hard," said Kitt.

Yorkey interjected: "I quit the business many times in the '90s."

"You're poor," Kitt continued, "and you're trying to figure out how to write. And, I'll never forget the Village Theatre [in Washington] applied to the Jonathan Larson Foundation on our behalf for a workshop of what was [then] called Feeling Electric in Seattle, and they gave us a grant. That saved the show and, in a lot of ways, probably saved our collaboration…so I just think of what if that hadn't happened, and [it's] another one of those, 'Where would we be right now?' questions for me."

Their real-life experience is reflected in If/Then. "You know, deep down, I'm a coward, afraid to let you in," Menzel's character sings in the first-act duet "Here I Go." "But the only thing more fright'ning is to say, 'What might have been.' So here I go."

"Take risks," Yorkey advises up-and-coming songwriters in the industry. "I think there's a lot of pressure — some of it overt, some of it just in the air — to try to do something commercial, and I would encourage any young songwriter to do something that they're passionate about, whether that's an original musical or an adaptation of a piece of work that they're in love with… There will be many, many stretches in success and in failure where you only have your passion to sustain you, so that's the thing you absolutely have to have. The rest of it may come or it may not, but as long as you're working on something you're passionate about, you never, ever wasted time."

"Don't get ahead of yourself and start thinking about the show's livelihood or the show's legacy," added Kitt, "because the thing you control is what you're writing and your passion for what you're writing. Find the stories that you feel you were born to write and to tell. Tell those stories."

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)