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'Next to Normal' wins Pulitzer Prize for drama

April 12, 2010 |  1:33 pm

Next to Normal poster The 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama has gone to the musical "Next to Normal." The tuner about a woman coping with mental illness contended for 11 Tony Awards last season, winning three: lead actress Alice Ripley, score by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (who share the Pulitzer and the $10,000 cash prize) and orchestrations. In the 92-year history of the Pulitzers, seven other musicals have won the award: "Of Thee I Sing" (1932); "South Pacific" (1950); "Fiorello" (1960); "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" (1962); "A Chorus Line" (1976); "Sunday in the Park with George" (1985); and "Rent" (1996).

The board that administers the Pulitzers overruled the recommendation of the jury, which listed "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 as the three finalists. The last of these also-rans played on Broadway earlier this season and could contend at the upcoming Tony Awards.

Three years ago, the board did another end-run when it awarded the Pulitzer to David Lindsay-Abaire for "Rabbit Hole." That nominating jury of five -- including New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel -- had put forth three other finalists. Snubbed were "Orpheus X" by Rinde Eckert, "Bulrusher" by Eisa Davis, and "Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue" by Quiara Alegría Hudes in favor of what many theater critics considered a mainstream commercial play admired mostly for the performance of red-hot "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon, who had won the 2006 Tony as lead actress for her raw portrayal of grief. "Rabbit Hole" lost the Tony for best play to "The History Boys" by British playwright Alan Bennett, just as "Next to Normal" was bested by the British "Billy Elliot" for the best musical Tony.

Last year, the board of the Pulitzers defied its stated creative mission when it bestowed the drama prize on Lynn Nottage's off-Broadway play "Ruined." According to its guidelines, the Pulitzer Prize is supposed to reward "a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life," but "Ruined" focused on the rape and genital mutilation of women during the civil war in the African Congo. Nonetheless, "Ruined" had been considered the front-runner to win, beating two other shows making the list of finalists: "Becky Shaw" by Gina Gionfriddo and 2008 Tony champ "In the Heights" by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Two years ago, "August: Osage County" won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Penned by actor-turned-playwright Tracy Letts, this sprawling three-hour-plus play traced the slow disintegration of a contemporary Oklahoma family. First staged by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in the summer of 2007, the production transferred to Broadway in November 2007, opening to near universal critical acclaim. Two months after winning the Pulitzer, "August: Osage County" swept the Tonys, taking home five awards, including best play.

For a complete list of winners and finalists, visit the Pulitzer website.

Photo: "Next to Normal" playbill. Credit: Booth Theater

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