Broadway musicals about mental illness are rare. Next to Normal, the winner of three of Tony awards, including Best Actress and Best Original Score, is even rarer: A musical about bipolar disorder that has been embraced by the public, critics, and the bipolar community. It's even a huge hit on Twitter. Every night after the show ends, fans wait to get autographs of the actors?and to express that for the first time, somebody is showing what it really feels like to live with bipolar. The show tells the story of a suburban family and a mother, played by Alice Ripley, who is struggling with bipolar disorder. Under Michael Grief?s direction, the subject of mental illness is treated with sensitivity, and given a full range of emotion with a powerful, moving performance as a result. We talked with Brian Yorkey, the Tony-award winning writer and lyricist for the show.
What was the inspiration for Next to Normal?
Tom and I both have had people in our lives who have struggled with mental illness of various types, and who have had to navigate the medical establishment to find the treatment that's right for them. We both took a writers workshop and were casting around for a topic for a 10-minute musical. One night, I saw a report on Dateline NBC about electroconvulsive therapy, commonly known as shock therapy. A statistic jumped out at me: a disproportionate number of ECT recipients are female and a disproportionate number of the doctors who prescribe it are male. It got me thinking about a woman who has struggled with mental illness her whole life, and all the men who have tried to cure her, and not quite succeeded. From that germ,