The Ballad of Kitt & Yorkey

How an unlikely duo made a far-from-normal Broadway splash.

by Josh Getlin Published Fall 2010
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Photo: Joan MarcusYet for all the chemistry, the two men have very different personalities. Kitt is more outgoing, the kind of person who stays late at a party and loves schmoozing. Yorkey is intense, introspective, and more solitary. “I tend to walk around with a little rain cloud over my head,” Yorkey says. “You might say that I’m a hopeful cynic. But with Tom, there’s an awesome power and light in his music. We’re like yin and yang.”

When Next to Normal opened on Broadway, New York critics responded with stellar reviews, singling out Ripley’s powerful performance. The musical received 11 Tony nominations, and won for Best Actress, Best Score, and Best Original Orchestrations. When Elton John accepted the Tony for Best Musical for Billy Elliot, he congratulated Kitt and Yorkey, saying: “May you stay together and write many more musicals, and be loyal and true to each other.” After 12 years, the odyssey of Next to Normal was “one of the most heartwarming stories on Broadway,” according to Brantley. Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage, said that the show “was reborn, with brilliant surgery. These writers finally located the beating heart at the center of their play.”

They also broke the rules: Next to Normal was not based on a film or book, something many producers are reluctant to take on. It had no bankable stars and was not a family-friendly show. Still, the production recouped its $4 million initial investment, no small feat in a recession. And in a culmination that brought its creators back to Columbia, Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

This November, a national tour starring Ripley will begin in Los Angeles. An Oslo production will be staged in September. Kitt and Yorkey, meanwhile, are immersed in other projects — including a new musical.

On a hot July night, more than a year after the show began its Broadway run, Alice Ripley and two other Next to Normal cast members were making their final appearance in the production, which would debut a new cast the next evening. The prolonged applause that had greeted the actors at the start finally subsided, and the play began. When it was over, the players took their final bows, and received another standing ovation from an audience that included Kitt and Yorkey.

“I looked around at people cheering and suddenly I began thinking about Brian and our work together,” says Kitt. “I remembered how the show began 12 years ago, the challenges, the near misses, and then an overwhelming sense of joy. This was a musical we had always cared about deeply, and here it was, playing in front of this great audience. It all made me extremely grateful, for the show and for our collaboration.”

As Alice Ripley and the cast smiled out at the adoring crowd, Kitt and Yorkey approached the stage to another round of cheers. Holding microphones, they stood with the performers and warmly praised those who were departing. Then Ripley made a brief speech, saluting her fans — and the two men who had made the show possible. “Without you,” she said, “I’m just singing in the shower.”

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