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Judith A. Sebesta

(b New York, NY, Nov 24, 1934). American lyricist and director. Charnin graduated from Cooper Union in New York and began his career as an actor, appearing as a Jet in the original production of West Side Story. He first worked as a lyricist with Mary Rodgers on Hot Spot (1963), then focused on writing and directing for television, particularly variety shows, in the 1960s and 70s. In 1972, he won two primetime Emmy Awards for S’Wonderful, S’Marvelous, S’Gershwin. After his stage directorial debut in 1968, he went on to write (with Charles Strouse) and direct one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history, Annie (1977), for which he and Strouse won the Tony Award for Best Original Score. Charnin wrote the optimistic show to counteract the prevailing cynicism in the United States brought on by such events as the Vietnam War and Watergate. Its sequel, ...

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James Leve

(b New York, NY, c8 April 1928–33; d New York, NY, Sept 11, 2004). American lyricist. He received a BA from New York University and a master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University. In the 1950s he collaborated with Phil Springer and placed several song lyrics with record companies in the Brill Building. He also collaborated with Paul Klein on three musicals, one of which, Morning Sun, appeared Off-Broadway in 1963. Ebb’s first Broadway experience was as a contributor to the 1960 revue From A to Z.

He is best known for his work with john Kander , with whom he started working in 1962. Within months they had their first hit, “My Coloring Book,” which garnered them a Grammy nomination. Their collaboration lasted more than four decades and resulted in 13 Broadway musicals, including two produced after Ebb’s death. Their first, Flora, the Red Menace (...

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Ronald J. Zank

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 6, 1954). American performer, playwright and librettist. Fierstein grew up in New York and worked as an actor; he also pursued his interest in painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was both lead actor and playwright for Torch Song Trilogy, which originated off-off Broadway before transferring to off-Broadway and finally to Broadway (1982). He wrote the libretto for the musical adaptation of the French play and film La Cage Aux Folles (1983, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), about a gay couple dealing with their son’s marriage into a conservative family. Fierstein also crafted the book for the short-lived Legs Diamond, a production that featured the songs and performance of Peter Allen as the title gangster. As a performer Fierstein originated the role of plus-sized mother Edna Turnblad in the musical ...

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Judith A. Sebesta

(Simon )

(b Chicago, IL, Feb 25, 1928; d Beverly Hills, CA, Sept 11, 2009). American librettist. He began his prolific and diverse career at 16 writing for radio. After moving to television in the 1950s, he collaborated with such well-known early television actors as Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. His career in that medium peaked with M*A*S*H, for which he wrote the pilot and subsequently wrote, produced, and occasionally directed the hit series. His screenwriting credits include Tootsie (1982) and Oh, God! (1977), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. His librettos for A Funny Thing Happened on to the Way to the Forum (1962) and City of Angels (1989) both won Tony Awards. After Gelbart’s death from cancer in 2009, Jack Lemmon, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen all named him the best American comedy writer they had ever known....

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Lara E. Housez

(Ian )

(b Oceanside, NY, May 15, 1956). American composer, lyricist, librettist, pianist, and singer. After studying composition at Carnegie Mellon University, Gordon settled in New York, where he emerged as a leading writer of art song, chamber pieces, opera, and musical theater. Drawing on his own texts as well as those by Marie Howe, Langston Hughes, Tina Landau, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Dorothy Parker, among others, Gordon dramatizes complex and mature subject material with sophisticated musical means that often stretch beyond the traditional palette of popular and Broadway music. In 2007, he made his largest musical statement to date with The Grapes of Wrath, an ambitious full-scale opera in three acts with a libretto by Michael Korie based on John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Commissioned by Minnesota Opera and Utah Symphony and Opera and co-produced by Pittsburgh Opera and Houston Grand Opera, the work melds popular musical styles and forms of the 1920s and 30s, featuring guitar, banjo, saxophone, and harmonica, with the classical drama of grand opera. Gordon often twists the accessible sounds for critical effect. He has nine recordings devoted to his music, and a cast of such internationally acclaimed vocalists as Kristin Chenoweth, Renée Fleming, Audra McDonald, Frederica von Stade, and Dawn Upshaw have featured his songs on 19 other discs. His publications include: four songbooks, ...

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(b New York, NY, Dec 2, 1914; d New York, NY, Oct 24, 2002). American lyricist, librettist, and actor. He sustained a lifelong writing partnership with Betty Comden. Among their joint works were the musicals Wonderful Town (1953) and Bells Are Ringing (1956), and the film script ...

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Scott Warfield

(b New York, NY, Dec 16, 1964). American composer, lyricist, and orchestrator. The son and grandson, respectively, of Broadway composers mary Rodgers and richard Rodgers , Guettel first sang professionally as a boy soloist with the New York Metropolitan Opera and other companies. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, the Interlochen Center for the Arts, and Yale University, from which he graduated in 1987. Early in his adult career, Guettel assisted conductor John Mauceri in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance, composed music for the off-Broadway show Love and Anger, and also performed as a bassist and singer. His first compositions include songs, symphonic works, and an unperformed one-act opera.

Guettel’s initial success was the off-Broadway production Floyd Collins, which won him and book author Tina Landau the 1996 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical. The show also earned Guettel and his orchestrator Bruce Coughlin that year’s Obie Award for Music. It is based on the ...

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Jessica Hillman

(b Chicago, IL, April 30, 1924). American lyricist. After serving in the Army, he attended Northwestern University, where he studied violin and received a Bachelor of Music degree. His first song on Broadway, for which he wrote both the music and the lyrics, appeared in New Faces of 1952. After teaming with composer Jerry Bock on The Body Beautiful (1958), Harnick concentrated on lyrics only for a string of highly successful Broadway musicals featuring Bock’s tuneful music and Harnick’s character-driven lyrics. The pair gained acclaim when Fiorello (1959), about the charismatic titular mayor of New York, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Their most acclaimed collaboration, Fiddler on the Roof (1964), often considered the last of the “Golden Age” musicals, for a time became the longest running musical on Broadway before it closed in 1972. Other works include Tenderloin (1960), ...

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(b Littlefield, TX, Feb 17, 1928). American lyricist and composer. He has often worked with the composer harvey Schmidt , and the duo bear the distinction of writing The Fantasticks, which in the early 2010s was the longest-running off-Broadway musical of all time. It opened on 3 May 1960 and ran 17,162 performances before closing on 13 January 2002. It received a Special Tony Award in 1992 for its staying power and status as a musical theater icon, and a film version was released in 1995. Jones and Schmidt had met at the University of Texas, Austin, and collaborated on a few projects, but were mired in a complicated, overly large project based on an Edmond Rostand play (a spoof of Romeo and Juliet) when they got the offer to create the musical one-act that became their signature piece. They kept their play’s basic concept but jettisoned all of their material except the song “Try to Remember,” and the result was ...

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Peter Purin

(b Chautauqua, NY, July 24, 1962). American composer and lyricist. He developed an interest in composing musical theater from a very young age. When he could not afford to attend the Juilliard School as a teenager, he became an accompanist at SUNY Fredonia. He then made his way to New York City in 1980 as a gigging pianist. ASCAP and BMI workshops for musical theater writing provided opportunities to hone his craft. His first full-length musical, Ballad of the Sad Café (1984), went unproduced. He began writing one-act musicals, including Agnes and Eulogy for Mister Hamm, which helped him secure the Richard Rodgers Development Award. Four of his one-act musicals were produced by Playwrights Horizon in 1991. There he met Ira Weitzman, who helped him obtain funding to continue writing. In the early 1990s, he did libretto work for opera composers Robert Moranon and Anthony Davis. His own through-composed ...

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Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, March 8, 1947). American singer, lyricist, songwriter, and writer. She grew up in New York, writing several popular songs before the age of 20, including “A Groovy Kind of Love” (1965). She has written songs for many celebrated performers, including Bette Midler, Neil Sedaka, Michael Jackson, and Neil Diamond. A frequent songwriting collaborator with Burt Bacharach, Peter Allen, and Carole King, Sager has also landed several hits as a performer, including “You’re moving out today” from her self-titled album (1977). One of her most popular hits has been “That’s what friends are for” (with Bacharach, 1986), which earned her a Grammy Award for Song of the Year. She has written music for Broadway shows, television, and film, garnering numerous awards including an Oscar for “Arthur’s Theme” (1981) and a Tony for The Boy from Oz (2003...

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Lukas Pearse

(b West Point, MS, Feb 5, 1941). American lyricist and vocalist. Barrett Strong first had success as a vocalist with his only hit record as a performer, “Money (That’s what I want)” (1959). Released on Tamla, the song hit no.2 on the R&B charts the next year and became Berry Gordy’s first hit for his Motown enterprise. Strong was hired as staff lyricist at Motown, often writing in partnership with Norman Whitfield, with whom he crafted many of Motown’s top hits. His songwriting spanned from the emotion of “I heard it through the grapevine” (recorded by Marvin Gaye and others) to the antiwar urgency of “War” (Edwin Starr), and other topical numbers such as “Ball of Confusion (That’s what the world is today)” (the Temptations). All of these were crossover R&B and pop hits. With Whitfield, he became deeply involved with writing for the Temptations, contributing the lyrics to such songs as “Cloud Nine,” “Just My Imagination,” and “Papa was a rolling stone,” the last of which won him a Grammy Award. After Motown moved to Los Angeles in ...