Feel-good stories about writing projects rescued from disaster are always inspiring. Here’s a great one to encourage and embolden you:
Back in 1998, two ambitious twenty-somethings, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey,
teamed up to write a short musical theatre piece about a manic-depressive woman getting shock therapy aptly called, Feeling Electric. The offbeat theme captures their imaginations and over the next 10 years, in-between other projects, they expanded their original concept into a four-hour musical story about a woman on the edge.
The piece bounced around and ultimately caught the eye of Wicked’s producer, David Stone. He saw potential but felt the show needed work and a sharper focus. The writing team to his ideas to heart and revised the show, which they renamed Next to Normal. It opened in 2008 — 10 years after the idea first popped up — in an Off-Broadway production. The critics were confused and, well…critical. The writers were so discouraged, they thought of giving up, but their director, Michael Greif gave them a pep talk, saying “The choice is letting it go or choosing more life. You always choose more life.”
In a make-or-break moment — the stuff that dreams are made of — the writing
team rebounded and decided to give up on Broadway and retool the musical until they got it right. The artistic director of the theatre where they staged it, Molly Smith, said that the show was “reborn, with brilliant surgery. These writers finally located the beating heart at the center of their play.”
But finding that heart wasn’t easy. They gave up songs they loved and cut good material because it didn’t serve the show. The musical’s concept shift radically and it was rewritten over 10 months. It reopened to warm critical praise. The show broke lots of rules: a tough theme, no bankable stars, no happy Hollywood ending. Even so, though it took 12 long years, Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now that’s a happy ending!