'Next to Normal' composers' words of comfort following actor's suicide

Brian Yorkey, left, and Tom Kitt.
Brian Yorkey, left, and Tom Kitt, are the composers of ‘Next to Normal’ and ‘If/Then.’

Michael, Melinda and Jeremy 'Jammer' DeJeanIn August, the Denver theatre community was left reeling from the suicide of Melinda Moore DeJean, a local actor and mother who had said she could not face another birthday after the death of her 24-year-old son.

Because DeJean’s story bears striking similarities to the lead character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal, we asked writers Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt if they had any words comfort for the DeJean family, or to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.

Yorkey and Kitt are in Denver for the launch of their latest Broadway musical, If/Then, which follows the divergent paths one modern woman’s life might take based on the outcome of one seemingly ordinary decision. Here is what they told us:

Brian Yorkey: First of all, that is just heartbreaking news. I grew up in Seattle, and I was just directing a show up there this spring when a beloved member of the theatre community there committed suicide. The first thing that you often think about is the responsibility we feel to the person who is struggling. Often I think that when someone goes through with suicide, we feel that there was one thing that we must have not done. That we just didn’t do enough. The fact is the monster, the disease, the condition that she was fighting can be stronger than all of us. That’s a terrible thing to contemplate, but it’s important that those of us who are left behind know that we can do everything we possibly can and yet still lose to the darkness. I know that might not sound like words of comfort, but it is an important thing to keep in mind. The second part of it is that somehow the rest of us have to keep pushing forward, because I think moving forward, God willing, will help lift those people who are still engaged in the battle. It’s not the fault of any one thing. It’s a mighty struggle, and even when we lose along the way, we have to keep fighting.”


Tom Kitt: Brian and I were met with reactions to Next to Normal that were really quite varied, from some people feeling like this was their life, to others saying they had seen things even worse than we showed in our play. And then there were those who said we didn’t go nearly far enough. So it’s a very loaded topic. I can never begin to truly understand what someone else is feeling. There are just things that are really horrible that happen in the world, and we continually ask why and try to make sense of it, and we can’t. But what we can do, I find, is come together. We can make music. We can make art. We can just be in each other’s grace and be comforted to know that there are people who care. There are people who want to find the humanity in the world. So I would just say that concerts and conversations and organized talkbacks are a good thing. Anything that brings people together and allows people to air out their feelings and feel the support and love from their communities, families and friends is a good thing. And if my writing in shows like American Idiot and Next to Normal and If/Then can contribute to that, then I am doing something good.” 


Photo above: Michael DeJean, left, Melinda Moore DeJean, and Jeremy DeJean.



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