The legacy of conductor and theatrical song guru Lehman Engel will be celebrated in an April 2 concert, Lehman's Children: The Legacy of Broadway's Greatest Teacher, with songs written by composers and lyricists he nurtured in workshops.
Stars of Broadway shows — including A Class Act, which has Engel as a character and The BMI Musical Theatre Workshop in central scenes — will perform works by musical theatre writers Gerard Alessandrini (Forbidden Broadway), Maury Yeston (Titanic, Nine), Carol Hall (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Michael John LaChiusa (Marie Christine), Ed Kleban (A Chorus Line), Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors), Richard Engquist (Abie's Island Rose), Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime) and others. The 8 PM concert is at Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan.
Stars of Seussical (Kevin Chamberlain, Anthony Blair Hall) and Ragtime and Once on This Island (La Chanze) will also be on hand, as will Linda Kline, who co-wrote the libretto of A Class Act, a show about BMI alum Ed Kleban. Kline will talk about the relationship between Ed Kleban and Lehman Engel.
The celebration of his life and work focuses on the writers who had direct contact with the late Engel. It was Engel who started an informal version of the current workshop in 1961. It was formalized over subsequent years, and was later dubbed (as it is today) The BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. It is one of the city's major crucibles of creativity for the would-be musical theatre writers, and has introduced many a composer to a lyricist.
Maury Yeston, longtime member of the Workshop and writer of the Tony winning music and lyrics for Nine and Titanic, serves on the Workshop's steering committee and teaches the advanced composer lyricist class. "[Lehman] provided loving attention to writers who otherwise would be separate and alone and without the foggiest idea how to get ahead or how to pursue their craft," Yeston said in a statement. "He was really one of a kind. He created a forum for friendly criticism and he offered it in the most avuncular and giving way. He brought into being a marvelous thing. And we refused to let it die with him."
After Engel's memorial service at the Shubert Theater in New York in August of 1982, several of the BMI Workshop members got together and concluded that they should honor Engel by keeping the workshop alive in his honor.
Broadway and film actress Sally Ann Howes ("Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," My Fair Lady), a friend of Engel's, will host the evening.
The performance inaugurates the new Merkin Concert Hall series entitled Broadway Close Up, which continues on May 7 at 8PM with Comden and Green: The Art of Collaboration and then June 18 with Bound for Broadway.
Merkin Concert Hall is in the Abraham Goodman House at 129 W. 67th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. Single tickets are $20 and a three-concert subscription to the entire Broadway Close Up series is $35. For information, call (212) 501-3330.
— By Kenneth Jones