Douglas Cohen and Polly Pen will receive the first joint Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award Oct. 18 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. The $25,000 cash award recognizes promising composers and lyricists creating American musical theatre.
Cohen wrote the book, music and lyrics to No Way To Treat a Lady, based on the William Goldman novel, and The Gig, based on Frank D. Gilroy's screenplay. Lady has been produced twice Off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild and the York Theatre Company, for which it was nominated for two Outer Critics Circle Awards. Cohen's upcoming projects include the James Fenimore Cooper-based Glimmerglass set to premiere Nov. 11-Dec. 5 1999 at Goodspeed-at-Chester, and writing the music and lyrics to The Drama Dept.'s The Big Time and the lyrics for Children's Letters to God with David Evans (music) and Stuart Hample (book).
Pen is best known for the Obie-winning musical Bed and Sofa, first produced at the Vineyard Theatre. The piece garnered seven Drama Desk nominations and was recorded on the Varese Sarabande label. Her first musical, Goblin Market, was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards and received a Best Plays Special Citation for Musical Compositions and Adaptations. Other works include Songs on a Shipwrecked Sofa, A Lovely Light, Christina Alberta's Father (also an Obie winner) and The Gilded Cage. Her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Behind the Mask," The Night Governess, will have its debut in 2000 at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre. Pen, currently an artist-in-residence at the McCarter, is on the nominating committee for the Tony Awards.
Both composers have received smaller grants from the foundation in the past. Speaking with Playbill On-Line, the award's founders Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla said Pen's selection was "mostly based on two things. It was based on the quality on her work; we thought she was an interesting voice in the musical theatre. [Also,] she's creating according to her vision and making a contribution to the theatre." Gilman found Pen's upcoming Night Governess, "more complicated and more full piece. The characters are more developed." Like many people, Gilman discovered Pen through the composer's breakout Off-Broadway hit, Goblin Market, "I was so blown away by Goblin Market," she said.
As for Cohen, Gonzalez-Falla finds his style, "more traditional. His music is very evocative. He covers a lot of musical styles."
So why the tie? According to Gonzalez-Falla, the award committee chooses the winner of the prize by straw vote. "Nine times out of ten we're more or less agreed," he said. "But this time we were split. We sat there for hours and hours. Finally, we said, `Obviously these are two wonderful talents.' "
Past recipients of Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Awards include Craig Carnelia (Is There Life After High School?), Louis Rosen, Jeffrey Lunden and Arthur Pearlman (Wings), Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again, Marie Christine), Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori (Violet), Jason Robert Brown (Songs for a New World, Parade), Ray Leslee (Avenue X) and Robert Lindsay Nassif (Honky Tonk Highway, Elliot Ness in Cleveland).
-- By Christine Ehren and Robert Simonson