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'Next to Normal' gets surprise Pulitzer win

By David Gordon, Managing Editor

A little musical that defied the odds to succeed on Broadway has defied the odds once more. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's "Next to Normal" has won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, after the 17-member Pulitzer board rejected the shortlist of nominees ("The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" by Kristoffer Diaz, "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" by Rajiv Joseph and "In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)" by Sarah Ruhl) given to them by a five-member jury.

The board is made up of senior journalists and journalism professors; the jury is generally made up of critics and playwrights.
Rejection of the shortlist is not an unprecedented move; it happened most recently in 2007, when David Lindsay-Abaire's play "Rabbit Hole" was chosen over three plays that the nominating jury (which incl

ded New York Times critic Ben Brantley and playwright Paula Vogel) had recommended.
What surprised me more than "Next to Normal's" win (though that was pretty shocking in and of itself) were the nominees. I had figured that Ruhl's lovely comedy about the use of vibrators to treat hysteria in women in the turn of the century would be on the list (she has previously been nominated for her extraordinary play "The Clean House.") Diaz and Joseph's plays, critically acclaimed, were nowhere on my radar screen.

I assumed the list would have been rounded out with Geoffrey Nauffts' "Next Fall," a piece about homosexuality and religion and Tarell Alvin McCraney's trilogy "The Brother/Sister Play." Horton Foote's brilliant, nine-hour "The Orphans' Home Cycle" would have won, a posthumous tribute to the playwright.

"Next to Normal" joins the likes of "Rent," and "Sunday in the Park with George," little shows that could, starting Off-Broadway, eventually moving to Broadway. (Kitt and Yorkey are first to say that without "Rent" and ‘Sunday' there would be no "Next to Normal.")
Naysayers were rampant; few figured the show would actually make it to Broadway, let alone make it on Broadway. It recently defied the odds again, joining a very small list of shows that made their money back.

I don't think "Next to Normal" is a brilliant piece of theater, but the score certainly is. So is the performance of the leading lady, Alice Ripley. I wouldn't have chosen it to win (if it were between the three choices the jury made, I would have picked "the vibrator play"). But it's a more-than-worthy choice.

Kyle Dean Massey, Alice Ripley and Bobby Spender in “Next to Normal.” (Photo Credit Joan Marcus, Courtesy of the Hartman Group)

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