2019 Kleban Prize Winners (l to r): Shaina Taub, Charlie Sohne and Sarah Hammond.
(Photos provided by Keith Sherman & Associates)
By Bobby McGuire
Dueling suffragettes, the travails of a pair of gay star-crossed lovers in Afghanistan, and the fabled real-life story of a 17th-century French philosopher’s mechanical reanimation of his beloved lost daughter. Will we be seeing these stories musicalized on stage in the not-so-distant future? If the Edward Kleban Foundation and the coveted Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre have any say, we just might.
On Monday, February 4, an invited crowd at a private reception held on West 57th Street gathered to honor the next wave musical theater wordsmiths as Sarah Hammond, Shaina Taub, and Charlie Sohne were presented the 2019 Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre.
There was plenty “sing for your supper” to be had as each Kleban Prize recipient presented a sample of their work in progress before having the first of two $50,000 installments given to them by Tony Award-winning director and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr.( Ain’t Misbehavin’, Miss Saigon), president of the Kleban Foundation.
The first set of songs performed were by 2019 prize-winner, lyricist Sarah Hammond, who presented work from her musical Wind-Up Girl, about French philosopher/mathematician Rene Descartes’ effort to create an automaton in the shape of his young deceased daughter. Next up, Charlie Sohne, winner of the most promising librettist award, presented a scene and song from his upcoming work The Boy Who Danced on Air, about a pair of gay lovers in Afghanistan.
Shaina Taub, the best-known of the 2019 recipients (she tied for most promising lyricist with Ms. Hammond), recounted her own special connection to the Kleban Award’s namesake. “As a child, I used to perform wildly inappropriate versions of “Dance 10, Looks 3” from A Chorus Line,“ she told the crowd. After presenting “Viola’sSoliloquyy” from her Public Works blockbuster Twelfth Night (performed by Kim Blanck), Miss Taub invited Drama Desk Award-winner and Tony nominee Jenn Colella (Come From Away) to sing “This Girl” from her untitled Women’s Suffrage Project.
Emcee duties for the evening were carried out by Tony Award-winning composer/lyricist Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic), who eulogized his best friend Kleban (the pair met as students in Lehman Engel’s famed BMI Workshop). Of his late friend’s work, Yeston said that Kleban’s lyrics are “the kind of thing that just effortlessly fall out of your mouth.”
Also, on hand were 2019 Kleban Prize judges actress Alison Fraser (The Secret Garden), lyricist Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody) and director Eric Schaeffer (Follies).
The Kleban Foundation was established in 1988 under the will of Edward L. Kleban, best known as the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist of the musical A Chorus Line. Kleban’s will made provisions for the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre, which in recent years have totaled $100,000 each, payable over two years, to be given to the most promising lyricist and librettist in American Musical Theatre. For 29 years, The Kleban Prize has recognized and not just an artist’s previous achievements, but the promise of creativity to come.
2019 winners Sarah Hammond Charlie Sohne and Shaina Taub join the list of illustrious Kleban Prize alumni who include Lisa Kron (Fun Home), Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak (A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder), David Lindsay-Abaire (Shrek), Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years), John Bucchino (A Catered Affair, It’s Only Life), Gretchen Cryer (I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, The Last Sweet Days of Isaac), Michael Korie (Grey Gardens, Happiness), Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), Michael John LaChiusa (Giant, See What I Wanna See, The Wild Party), Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid) and John Weidman (Pacific Overtures, Road Show, Assassins).
Bobby McGuire is the backstage veteran of nine Broadway shows and national tours. His post-showbiz life led him to work for Ogilvy and Mather, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and EDGE Media Network. He resides in Manhattan with two roommates and a Maltese named Nero.