NEW YORK CITY: The Fred Ebb Foundation, in association with the Roundabout Theatre Company, has announced that the songwriting team Ben Bonnema & Christopher Staskel and composer/lyricist/playwright Michael R. Jackson as the winners of the 2020 Fred Ebb Award. The awards will be presented by Audra McDonald on Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET in a virtual ceremony.
The Fred Ebb Award, named in honor of the late lyricist, recognizes excellence in musical theatre songwriting by a songwriter or songwriting team that has not yet achieved significant commercial success. The prize includes a $60,000 award and a one-night-only showcase of the winner’s work. This year’s selection committee comprised foundation trustee Mitchell S. Bernard; actors Janet Dacal, Natascia Diaz, and Celia Keenan-Bolger; and music director David Loud. Each year, the foundation also makes a donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Bonnema is the recipient of the Jonathan Larson Grant, ASCAP Frederick Loewe Award, and the Harold Adamson Lyric Award. The New Yorker raved about his musical The Apple Boys, calling it “a bushelful of delights” and that he wrote “clever, catchy songs” (book by Jonothon Lyons, 2018 production at HERE Arts Center). One Way, with Christopher Staskel, was developed at the Musical Theatre Factory, the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writer’s Colony at Goodspeed, and NAMT’s 2019 Festival of New Musicals. Bonnenma wrote the book, music & lyrics to Adult Swim’s Peter Panic, a musical video game played by nearly two million people (developed by James Marion). His slumber party musical Boys Who Tricked Me was called “heart-healing musical theatre” by Joshua Barone of The New York Times. Other full-length work: The Lost Girl with Arianna Rose. Film: Mary Poppins Returns (Music Associate to Marc Shaiman, Oscar nom.). Ben holds an M.F.A. from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.
Staskel is a writer and musical theatre lyricist-librettist based in New York City. He received the 2019 ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Lyric Award following a concert of his work (with collaborator Ben Bonnema) at the John F. Kennedy Center in D.C. His and Bonnema’s musical One Way—about the first one-way mission to Mars—was selected for NAMT’s 2019 Festival of New Musicals, the Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project, and the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat. He was a winner (with Max Mamon) of NY City Center’s 2014 Sondheim Remix contest, which granted him the surreal opportunity to rap for Stephen Sondheim. He holds a B.F.A. in Music Theatre from Elon University and an M.F.A. from the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. When not thinking up rhymes, Staskel works at a cat café.
Jackson‘s 2020 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award-winning A Strange Loop (which had its 2019 world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73 Productions) was called “a full-on laparoscopy of the heart, soul, and loins” and a “gutsy, jubilantly anguished musical with infectious melodies” by Ben Brantley of The New York Times, and “exhilarating and wickedly funny” by Sara Holdren for New York Magazine. In the New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham wrote, “To watch this show is to enter, by some urgent, bawdy magic, an ecstatic and infinitely more colorful version of the famous surreal lithograph by M. C. Escher: the hand that lifts from the page, becoming almost real, then draws another hand, which returns the favor.” As a songwriter, he has seen his work performed everywhere from Joe’s Pub to NAMT. In addition to A Strange Loop, he also wrote book, music and lyrics for White Girl in Danger; and lyrics and book for the musical adaptation of the 2007 horror film Teeth with composer and co-bookwriter Anna K. Jacobs. Awards and associations include a New Professional Theatre Festival Award, a Jonathan Larson Grant, a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, an ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Award, a Whiting Award, the Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting, a New York Drama Circle Critics Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Obie Award, an Antonyo Award, a Dramatist Guild Fellowship and he is an alum of Page 73’s Interstate 73 Writers Group.
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