It was with some hometown pride that we noted the Pulitzer just awarded to the musical Next to Normal, which was workshopped at Issaquah's Village Theatre back in 2005. The show is currently running on Broadway, with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, who was associate artistic director at the VT before moving to New York. With an unlikely but uplifting theme of a woman struggling with mental illness, Next to Normal also earned three Tony Awards (including Best Score for Tom Kitt), adding to the acclaim of a show that's expected to tour next year, including a triumphant return to the Northwest.
Was this Pulitzer awarded too close to home?
But, wait, what are we reading in the LA Times? Some are alleging that the musical wasn't even properly shortlisted by the Pulitzer drama jury. That group, composed of theater critics and scholars, first recommends a handful of shows to the Pulitzer board at Columbia University's journalism school, and Next to Normal wasn't even on that list. Does someone smell favoritism? And what show did several members of the Pulitzer board go see last week before they voted for the dark horse? One that was conveniently close? Keep reading...Now The New York Times is reporting that "Several Pulitzer Prize board members went to see the Broadway musical "Next to Normal" last Thursday, the night before the board made its surprise vote to award this year's drama Pulitzer to [Next to Normal]."
This supports the complaint by Charles McNulty, an LA Times critic and member of the Pulitzer drama jury, who wrote, "I can't help being ticked off. In an era in which important new dramatic works rarely get their start in New York, the board's geographical myopia ... is especially disheartening."
McNulty and his fellow jurors actually recommended three out-of-town works to the Pulitzer board: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, and In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). And while McNulty offers praise for the eventual Pulitzer winner, he also calls Next to Normal's score "generic and its understanding of mental illness simplistic."
But also, it was "just a short taxi ride away," which may prove that Yorkey was shrewd to open his play in New York, not his hometown of Issaquah, where the Pulitzer voters never would've seen it.