NEW YORK CITY: The Kleban Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2020 Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre. The prize for the most promising musical theatre lyricist has been awarded to Daniel Messé, and the prize for most promising musical theatre librettist has been awarded to co-librettists Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew. The prizes, which include a monetary award of $100,000 each, will be presented at a private ceremony on Feb. 3.
The Kleban Foundation, established in 1988 in honor of composer and lyricist Edward Kleban, recognizes musical theatre librettists and lyricists. This year’s winners were selected by a trio of Tony-winning judges: Gerard Alessandrini, Victoria Clark, and Robyn Goodman.
“This year we celebrate 30 years of the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre,” said Tony winner Richard Maltby Jr., president of the Kleban Foundation, in a statement. “For three decades, the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre has been one of the theatre’s most distinctive honors. Ed Kleban recognized that theatrical wordsmiths had the hardest time supporting themselves while honing their craft, and so the Kleban awards are specifically for librettists and lyricists. While other theatre awards recognize the best of the past season, the Kleban Prize celebrates work yet to be done…Kleban Prize winners are the artists who are going to define the art form for years to come.”
Messé is the founder and principal songwriter of the band Hem, which began in 2001 with the album Rabbit Songs. In 2009, the Public Theater tapped Hem to score their summer Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night, for which they earned a Drama Desk Nomination. Along with Craig Lucas (book) and Nathan Tysen (co-lyrics), Messé wrote the music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of the French film Amélie, which debuted on Broadway in 2017. Messé has written four musicals for TheatreWorks USA with collaborator Mindi Dickstein. Messé is also a recipient on a Jonathan Larson Grant from the American Theatre Wing, the ASCAP/Frederick Loewe Award, and an E.Y. “Yip” Harburg Fellowship. Currently, Messé is at work on a new theatrical song cycle inspired by Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” He is also working together again with Craig Lucas (book) along with Sean Hartley (co-lyrics) on adapting Craig’s play, Prelude to a Kiss, for South Coast Rep. Education includes a BA from Carleton College and an MFA from NYU’s Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.
Lew Mirza and Lew are married playwrights sharing a Mellon Foundation National Playwright residency at Ma-Yi Theater Company, and a previous artist-in-residence at La Jolla Playhouse. Their Rodgers Award-winning musical Bhangin’ It (which they wrote with composer Sam Willmott) is upcoming at La Jolla Playhouse and McCarter. Previous workshops include LJP/Ma-Yi/Jerome, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Goodspeed, Orchard Project, Running Deer, and Project Springboard. They are also collaborating on The Colonialism Project, a La Jolla Playhouse commission. Individually, Lew Mirza’s plays include Hatefuck (WP/Colt Coeur; upcoming at Roundhouse); A People’s Guide to History in the Time of Here and Now (Primary Stages commission; AADA workshop); Soldier X (Ma-Yi; Brooklyn College; NYSCA/Lark commission); and Barriers (Desipina, Asian American Theater Company).
Lew’s plays include Teenage Dick (Donmar Warehouse, Ma-Yi at the Public, Artists Rep, upcoming Woolly Mammoth/Huntington); Tiger Style! (Olney, Huntington, LJP, Alliance); Bike America (Ma-Yi, Alliance); and microcrisis (Ma-Yi, InterAct). His honors include 2019 NYFA Fellow, Colt Coeur company member, HBO Access Fellow, Lilly Award (Stacey Mindich “Go Write A Play”), and a TCG/New Georges Fellowship. Lew is a Tony Voter and Dramatists Guild Council member with honors including Lark Venturous and NYFA fellowships; and the PEN, Lanford Wilson, Helen Merrill, Heideman, and Kendeda awards.