Maury Yeston Will Step Down as BMI Musical Workshop Moderator After 20 Years

News   Maury Yeston Will Step Down as BMI Musical Workshop Moderator After 20 Years Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Maury Yeston will step down as the advanced-class moderator of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, the not-for profit crucible of craft in New York City that pairs composers and lyricists and prepares them for careers in musical theatre.
Maury Yeston
Maury Yeston

Yeston took over as moderator for the advanced workshop — the third year of the program — almost 20 years ago to "give back" to the creative community in memory of mentor and famed music director Lehman Engel, who founded the workshop in the 1960s. Yeston leaves in summer 2003, but will continue with the workshop in an advisory capacity, overseeing master classes and serving on the workshop steering committee.

The composer-lyricist won Best Score Tony Awards for Titanic and Nine, and also penned the popular Phantom and contributed to the score of Grand Hotel. Nine is currently in rehearsal for a Broadway revival starring Antonio Banderas. Among other projects, he is working on a musical version of Death Takes a Holiday with librettist Peter Stone. He has also penned the libretto and is arranging the Frank Loesser score to a new stage version of Hans Christian Andersen.

The BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop announced new faculty appointments to take place for fall 2003. Richard Engquist, co-lyricist for such musicals as Little Ham and Abie's Island Rose and lyricist for Kuni-Leml (Outer Critics Circle Award), will be serve as moderator of the advanced composer-lyricist workshop. Drama Desk Award-winner and Grammy Award nominee Carol Hall, composer-lyricist of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas will take over the second year workshop (Engquist's recent turf).

The first year composer-lyricist workshop is moderated by workshop artistic coordinator Patrick Cook in collaboration with this writing partner, Frederick Freyer. The team wrote Captains Courageous, seen at Manhattan Theatre Club. The librettists workshop is helmed by veteran Broadway dramaturg, Nancy Golladay.

Among the composers and lyricists who have been heard in the workshop during Yeston's tenure are Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (who met in the workshop) and would later go on to win Tony Awards for Ragtime; composer-lyricist Andrew Lippa (jon & jen, The Wild Party); composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa (Little Fish and Broadway's The Wild Party and Marie Christine, who also worked under Lehman Engel); songwriters Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q); composer-lyricist Jeff Blumenkrantz (Urban Cowboy); composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Brian Crawley (Violet); composer-lyricist Douglas Cohen (Now Way to Treat a Lady, The Gig); songwriter and singer Amanda Green (Take It Like Amanda); composer Kim Oler and lyricist Alison Hubbard (who came in under Lehman and continued under Yeston and have penned Little Women and The Enchanted Cottage); and Patrick Cook & Frederick Freyer (Captains Courageous). After the 1982 death of Engel, who started the workshop in 1961 and expanded it nationally as an arm of the music-rights organization BMI, his workshop students — including Yeston, Alan Menken, Ed Kleban and others — vowed to keep the workshop running.

"Since that time, the multi-tiered workshop has been moderated by writers who were developed and nurtured by Engel as well as Broadway veterans," Jean Banks, BMI's senior director of musical theatre, told Playbill On Line."

The BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop consists of approximately 250 composers, lyricists and bookwriters, who are actively writing new works for the musical theatre.

BMI fully sponsors the workshop, Banks said: There is no cost to the participating writers, who are admitted solely on the basis of an audition of material. The goal is to bring writers together and develop new creative talent in the American musical theatre. "The workshop has become a springboard for new works, a resource for new collaborations, and a talent pool available to the theatrical industry," Banks said.

Among projects heard and refined in the workshop over 40 years are Raisin, A Chorus Line, Little Shop of Horrors, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Forbidden Broadway, Avenue Q, Weird Romance, Abie's Island Rose, Kuni-Leml, Lucky Stiff and more.

Engel's students included Clark Gesner, Michael Korie, Walter Edgar "Skip" Kennon, Ellen Fitzhugh, Frank Evans, Susan Birkenhead, David Spencer, Judd Woldin, Engquist and many others.

For information about applying to the workshop, visit BMI.com or contact Jean Banks, Musical Theatre, BMI, 320 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212) 830 2508 or musicaltheatre@bmi.com.

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The Broadway musical, A Class Act, about composer-lyricist Ed Kleban, had several scenes set in the BMI workshop, with Lehman Engel featured as a jolly character in the show (Patrick Quinn played him). Kleban songs that were first heard in the workshop over the years formed the score of that musical, which is now finding a life in regional theatre.