Monday, April 12, 2010

Next to Normal wins Pulitzer Prize

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded today to Tom Kitt, composer, and Brian Yorkey, lyricist and book writer, for Next to Normal.

The citation calls it "a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals."

I did not see this one coming but I think it's a well-deserved award.

I know Next to Normal has provoked controversy for its depiction of psychiatry and of a woman in the throes of mental illness. And I completely respect people who take an opposite view. But please, hear me out.

While I don't have experience with anyone in my family, I know people who suffer from mental illness. I know people who have committed suicide, including someone who killed himself after he decided to stop taking his medication.

You can criticize the choices Diana, the main character, makes as a woman with depression and bipolar disorder but you can't deny that sometimes, people in her situation do make those choices. Depicting them is not the same as endorsing them.

What gives this work its power and emotion, what makes it so gut-wrenching is that we see the devastating impact Diana's illness has not only on her life but on the lives of her husband and daughter. I felt nothing but compassion and greater understanding of their plight.

Kitt and Yorkey, who won the Tony Award for Best Score, convey so well what each character is going through - how they feel, their fears and frustrations - to a vibrant rock 'n' roll beat.

As I said in my review, I did not take the musical as an attack on psychiatry or on antidepressants.

Rather, I think it's an exploration of the difficulty in treating mental illness despite the best efforts of physicians, despite the tools of modern medicine, despite people in its throes wanting to get better, despite the love and care and desperate hopes of families.

Because of the subject matter, Next to Normal is tough to sit through at times but it's one of the most original, compelling works I've seen on Broadway or anywhere else.

Next to Normal is playing on Broadway at the Booth Theatre. A national tour will start in the fall.

10 comments:

broadwaycritic said...

I 100% agree with you! I whole-heartedly agree with you and absolutely love that show.

Btw, we could exchange links! http://broadwaycritic.wordpress.com

Esther said...

Sure, I will add you to my blogroll!

Thanks for the comment. Like I said, I respect people who feel otherwise because I know it's a very complex subject but I came away feeling such sympathy for this family and the difficulty of what they were going through.

Geraldine said...

They so deserve it! I love the music of that show and I've been dying to go see it on Broadway (or will it be the tour?) Congrats to them!

Linda said...

As you know, I don't agree with you, but I respect your opinion and this was a very well-written post. If we all agreed, the world would be pretty boring.

Bob said...

Here's to hopeing SOMEONE brings N2N to Chicago soon. I really want to see it!

Joseph Gomez said...

What gives this work its power and emotion, what makes it so gut-wrenching is that we see the devastating impact Diana's illness has not only on her life but on the lives of her husband and daughter. I felt nothing but compassion and greater understanding of their plight.

Well said, Esther.

Ben said...

Well said! I couldn't agree more. I've seen over 700 shows, Next to Normal is as great as any. May this award translate to universal accessibility to everyone to see this beautiful show. Its not just about mental illness, about the nature of grief, and what it means to be part of a family. See it!

Esther said...

Hey Linda, thank-you for your comment. I know this is a complex, emotional subject and I understand the qualms about Next to Normal. I understand why people might view it differently than I did - especially if they have a deeper experience with mental illness, from a family member or close friend.

Anyway, disagreements are part of what makes the theatre discussion interesting. And I'm happy that there are some shows we both love.

Esther said...

Hey Geraldine, Joseph and Ben. I appreciate the comments. The musical really did affect me deeply. And I think Ben is correct - it's also about grieving and being part of a family.

Esther said...

Bob, I cannot believe the Next to Normal tour is bypassing Chicago. I really want you to see it because I'd love to hear your opinion. Have you ever been to Providence? My sofa bed is available and comfy!