By Kathryn Kitt
There have been a number of productions of “Next to Normal” since its Tony Award/Pulitzer prize winning moment in 2009 that have been wondrous. The Armonk Players version is no exception, except, for me, the experience has come full circle. I am Tom Kitt’s Sister, who is the composer and creator of “Next to Normal’ and have experienced the workshop process at the BMI Music Festival back in 1996 with the original title “Feeling Electric – Up the Dose.” It was the brainstorm of Tom and his college friend/lyricist Brian Yorkey who had the assignment to present a 10 minute musical idea to their BMI musical theatre class.
Thomas, as I called him, and I were both living in New York City at the time and it was quite a special time for us while we were trying to work in the music business. I trained as an Opera singer, so I went to auditions and sang in performances around the city. Tom, in addition to being at BMI, played at a piano bar on the East Side where my extended family would gather on weekends – complete with me singing Puccini and Andrea Boccelli. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jenn Colella (“Come from Away”) would show up and soon it would become open mic in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan.
While Tom worked on the musical, he recruited me to sing some of the songs from “Next to Normal” in his class. I was skeptical – who writes this type of musical, about mental health and depression? I know “Rent” was a big hit, but it dealt with younger people who could wear tight clothes and do high kicks in platform shoes. “Next to Normal” dealt with family and the dynamics that go along with it. Needless to say, I eventually was proven wrong, for the show was picked up by David Stone – producer of “Wicked” after he saw a workshop of it in the New York Music Festival.
The show culminated in Tom and Brian winning the Tony for Best score, beating out Elton John and Dolly Parton, Tom winning for best Orchestrations and then the Pulitzer. This has resulted in quite a whirlwind for our family. Tom has gone on to have quite a robust musical career in composing and orchestrating and is up for a Tony for orchestrations for the “Spongebob Musical on Broadway.”
When Christine DiTota and Pia Haas mentioned how they wanted to bring “Next to Normal” to the Tom’s hometown, I was completely on board! I know that a show like this would bring the community together, be it teachers at Byram Hills (Adam Welsh, John Anthony Lopez), local performers (Christine Gavin, Anthony Malchar, Jess Bulzzaccheli, Jesse Herman), plus Phyllis Padow –Sederbaum and Vivien Bonnist Cord on props! Everyone was so excited to bring this experience to Whipporwill and I could not be more proud! Christine DiTota has kept the heart and staging of the story intact while Adam Welsh’s lighting captures the excitement of the Booth Theatre in NYC.
Of course, I had to get someone in the family involved and thanks to the brilliant musical director Ricky Romano, he took a chance and recruited my son Andrew Aldous (Byram Hills Junior) to play guitar in the band. This has truly been the most exciting experience of all, and I am convinced that Andrew is channeling my brother up there.
“Next to Normal” is surely a family affair, but this production goes beyond our little town. It is a story about everyone’s family and how we all try to navigate challenges whether it be mental illness, teenage angst and loss. I encourage anyone who feels deeply to see this show and prepare to be brought to a transformative place. I thank the Armonk Players for their commitment and thoughtful production and I know we will never forget this moment!
Next to Normal, sponsored by the Friends of the North Castle Public Library, is playing at Whippoorwill Hall, 19 Whipporwill Road E., Armonk, NY 10504 Remaining Performance dates below.