Sunday night the American Theater Wing bestows its top honors on Broadway’s outstanding artists. This year, in typical fashion, several musicals up for Tony awards have Los Angeles connections. KPCC’s Molly Peterson found an unusual tie between one award contender and a local politician.
Molly Peterson: “Next to Normal” is nominated for 11 Tony Awards. Two of those nods go to lyricist Brian Yorkey.
Brian Yorkey: “Next to Normal” is a sort of modern musical about one family’s struggle with mental illness and grief and loss, and really, sort of figuring out how they’re going to go forward.
[Song “Just Another Day”: "When it's up to you to hold your house together/ A house you built with tender loving care/ But you're grappling with that gray and rainy weather/ And you're living on a latte and a prayer/Can you keep the cup from tipping/Can you keep the grip from slipping/In despair, for just another day?"]
Peterson: In the show, a wife and mother tries to live with bipolar disorder while her family tries to figure out what “normal” is.
[Song “Superboy & The Invisible Girl”: "Superboy and the Invisible Girl/He's the one you wish would appear/He's your hero, your savior, your son/He's not here, I am here..."]
Yorkey: I think that there is a strong tendency in many American families to put on a brave face, to soldier through, and the lengths we go to fit our family into that really false frame of normalcy turns out to be more harmful than living through our imperfections would be.
Peterson: Every songwriter has to begin somewhere. Brian Yorkey started with The Varsity Show at Columbia University.
[Song "Columbia Love": "I thought I’d learn a lesson in the college class of love. But all my true false lessons came out none of the above. And how can it be true with such a high IQ? With love we’re at a loss for what to do. Am I doing this right?"]
Peterson: For more than a century, students have written the annual show. Some lit up the Great White Way and the silver screen.
Yorkey: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart wrote for the Varsity show, as did I.A.L. Diamond, who’s a screenwriter...
Eric Garcetti: ... So then came along Yorkey and Garcetti.
Peterson: L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti is from the Columbia College class of ’92. Back then, Yorkey says, he was a big man on campus.
Yorkey: But I said to him, you know I write lyrics, we should try to write something.
Garcetti: Quite often he would give me lyrics, other times I would give him a song and it had a full melody and he would write the lyrics.
Yorkey: We had chemistry. We wrote good songs together. And we had a lot of fun doing it. And when you find that with a songwriting partner you grab onto it. He’s an incredibly funny man. I mean, do people know that in Los Angeles?
[Song “Civility Committee”: "We’re the civility committee and we’d like to take some time to enumerate our doctrine and elaborate our rhyme. We don’t push an agenda. We’re here for you. Especially if you’re a gay Hispanic crippled Asian Jew!"]
Peterson: Yorkey and Garcetti finished two musicals together. A third, set in Los Angeles between the 1992 Riots and the Northridge earthquake, remains unfinished.
Garcetti: There’s this one song... so it’s called “The Morning After,” these four people, living together in LA. A lot of our songs are very kind of bittersweet. And it describes how each one of them is either in a relationship where they don’t feel satisfied, they’re secretly in love with someone in the house, or they can’t hold down a relationship.
Peterson: Garcetti’s songwriting days ended when Yorkey started writing with fellow Columbia grad Tom Kitt – who composed the music for “Next to Normal.”
Garcetti: And Brian – he didn’t really jilt me. He just said he was no longer attracted to the characters that were in it. Which I totally respected.
Yorkey: I can’t believe I said that, that I lost interest in the characters. I’m sure it wasn’t true. I’m sure that was my 20-something way of not talking about the real subject.
Peterson: Yorkey decided that Garcetti was meant for public service. So did Garcetti. The two haven’t spoken for years. But the councilman still plays songs from the duo’s unsung repertoire.
Garcetti: And I still have a dream that we might come back together and finish it.
Yorkey: I would love to finish that musical!
Peterson: Yorkey says that every time he drives past Garcetti’s office, he thinks about knocking on the door.