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César Alvarez (photo by Sammy Tunis) and Isabella Dawis.

César Alvarez, Isabella Dawis to Receive 2022 Kleban Prizes

The award for most promising lyricist and librettist in the American musical theatre includes a purse of $100,000, paid out over two years.

NEW YORK CITY: The Kleban Foundation celebrates the 32nd anniversary of the annual Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre with the announcement of the 2022 prize winners. The Kleban Prize for the most promising musical theatre lyricist has been awarded to César Alvarez (they/them), and the Kleban Prize for the most promising musical theatre librettist has been awarded to Isabella Dawis.

The Kleban Foundation was established in 1988 under the will of Edward L. Kleban, best known as the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning lyricist of A Chorus Line. Kleban’s will made provisions for annual prizes, which in recent years have totaled $100,000 each, payable over two years, to be given to the most promising lyricist and librettist in the American musical theatre.

“In these challenging times, the Kleban Foundation is proud to carry on Ed Kleban’s enlightened legacy, and to continue fostering the work of new writers, as well as supporting writers who have already begun to establish themselves,” said foundation president Richard Maltby Jr. in a statement. “Kleban Prize winners are the artists who are going to define the art form for years to come.”

César Alvarez (they/them) is a composer, lyricist, playwright, and performance maker who creates large experimental musicals as non-normative possibility spaces for embodiment, inter-dimensionality, socio-political transformation, kinship, and coexistence across difference. Drawing on their background as a jazz saxophonist, band leader, and sound artist, their work inhabits a space between the worlds of theatre, music, and performance art. Alvarez has written five full-length musicals: Futurity (2016 Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical), The Elementary Spacetime Show, The Universe is a Small Hat, Noise (a commission of the Public Theater), and The Potluck. Alvarez also composed the music for Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (Soho Rep, TFANA; Drama Desk Nomination) and the Foundry Theater’s Good Person of Szechwan (LaMaMa, the Public Theater; Drama Desk Nomination). In 2015 Alvarez co-founded Polyphone, a festival of new and emerging musicals at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and served as artistic director for five seasons. Alvarez was a 2018–20 Princeton Arts Fellow, 2020–22 Hermitage Fellow, a recipient of the Jonathan Larson Award, and is currently under commission at Playwright’s Horizons and Denver Theater Center. They are an assistant professor of music at Dartmouth College.

Isabella Dawis is a Filipina American playwright and performer. As book writer/lyricist, she is the winner of the 2021 Fred Ebb Award with composer Tidtaya Sinutoke. Dawis currently holds a 2021-23 Composers and the Voice Fellowship with the American Opera Project. Her musicals written with Tidtaya Sinutoke include Half the Sky (Weston-Ghostlight New Musical Award, 5th Avenue Theatre Digital Radio Play/First Draft Commission, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Theater Mu’s New Eyes Festival, Theater Latté Da’s NEXT Festival) and Sunwatcher (Civilians’ R&D Group, Goodspeed’s Johnny Mercer Writers Grove, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater Global Forms, Ancram Opera House Play Lab, Tofte Lake Center). Dawis’s writing has been supported by the Primary Stages Rockwell Scholarship, the Kurt Weill Foundation’s Lotte Lenya Songbook, Musical Theatre Factory, Coalition of Asian American Leaders, and more. She received her B.M. summa cum laude in piano performance from the University of Minnesota, with vocal study at New England Conservatory.

The Kleban Foundation will present the 2022 prizes in a virtual ceremony streaming online at Broadway On Demand starting Mon., Feb. 21 at 7 p.m., and available on demand through Feb. 28. Free and open to the public, the event will feature musical performances from this year’s recipients and will be hosted by Maltby and fellow Tony winner and Kleban board member Maury Yeston.

The judging panel for this year’s award included 2018 Kleban Prize-–winning lyricist Sarah Hammond (Pete the Cat); Obie Award-winning composer, lyricist and music director Or Matias (Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812); and actor Manu Narayan (Company, My Fair Lady).

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