2018 Kleban Prize Winners Alan Schmuckler, Amanda Yesnowitz & Christian Duhamel Reveal the Musical Theatre Albums That Most Influenced Them
February 9th, 2018
by Josh Ferri
The 28th Annual Kleban Prizes for Musical Theatre were awarded this week to Alan Schmuckler (the most promising musical theater lyricist, tie), Amanda Yesnowitz (the most promising musical theater lyricist, tie), and Christian Duhamel (the most promising musical theater librettist) in a private reception hosted by ASCAP and BMI. Named for the Tony Award and Pulitzer-winning lyricist of A Chorus Line, Edward Kleban, the Kleban Prize honors the most promising lyricist and librettist in the American musical theatre. BroadwayBox caught up with this year’s three honorees to find out from each about the three musical theatre albums that truly inspired them on their path to musical theatre.
The earliest ones I remember listening to a lot as a little kid were also some of the first musicals I was ever exposed to: Cats, Les Miserables, and The Phantom of the Opera. I am very much a child of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, so when I was six/ seven/eight these were the shows. I’m lucky I grew up in Jersey, a stone’s throw from Midtown, and so I got to be exposed to that stuff from an early age. I remember being taken with the largeness of emotion. For a little kid with a lot of big feelings who loved music, that was very exciting and very moving. It was intoxicating. Les Miz remains a benchmark for scope of storytelling in lyric and music. It’s operatic and very transporting. They were the gateway drug for me.
Then absolutely The Last Five Years in college. I distinctly remember coming home Thanksgiving break freshman year, and one of my oldest friends from high school who had gone off to another college said to me, “Have you heard this music?” I remember sitting in my parents living room in New Jersey listening to it and having a similar experience of, “Oh, this is what this could be.” I heard myself in a way I hadn’t heard before. There’s an emotional sophistication and intelligence and a tunefulness. I think there’s a whole generation of us that looks to that album and Jason Robert Brown as the music that brought us from being kids who loved it into young adults who loved it.
City of Angels for me certainly. I saw that one when I was a teenager and there’s so much lyric-driven, crunchy, inventive word play. I am a huge, huge fan of David Zippel.
I’d be lying if I said Annie wasn’t a big cultural touchstone for me. I saw Annie when I was five years old on Broadway, and Sarah Jessica Parker was Annie. It may not have been something that made me want to be lyricist, but it was certainly something that was very meaningful for me.
I’m going to say Mack and Mabel for the final one because I think Jerry Herman is one of the most overlooked and undervalued songwriters. He’s a legend and I’m going to give him a shout-out. You listen to “I Won’t Send Roses” and find a more perfect song than that. I dare you! Tight, compressed lyrics that are packed with emotion, and that’s what good lyric writing is.—you’ve got a little space to say a lot, and that’s a perfect example of a song that does it exquisitely.
I’ll go with an origin story. My family used to have a six-hour drive to visit my grandparents, and on that drive, we would listen to The Phantom of the Opera in the tape deck. It might not be one I listen to as often now, but it was certainly part of my formative years listening to that every trip there and back again.
For number two, I am going with Into the Woods. My mom was probably going crazy as I listened to it on repeat. Certainly for all of high school and into college, that was a piece I was listening to over and over again. Re-listening to those lyrics wondering, “Did I catch all of them,” “Where are those rhymes,” “How does he [Sondheim] do that,” “How does his brain function to come up with those,” and “How does he tell stories?” Into the Woods changed how I viewed what music and lyrics could do to propel story.
Finally, I’m going to go with Chess. I am excited to see this new version. Chess has gone through many a libretto, and for me that was a show that opened up what music on Broadway or in a large-scale musical could sound like. Lived my ‘80s dreams with that.