With the recent announcement of the Public Theater's much buzzed about production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton transferring to Broadway in July, I feel more hopeful than ever about the future of new musicals. What is particularly exciting about Hamilton is its use of different musical styles not typically associated with Broadway, specifically modern sounds like hip-hop, to theatricalize American history.
Hamilton's success seems to point the way toward all kinds of new voices taking stage in musical theatre, which got me thinking about some other new voices (and even not-so-new voices), who made an impressive debut or have given us an important body of work and are overdue for a new musical.
Click through to read my selections for the Top 10 Songwriters Broadway Needs To Hear From Soon.
10. Eli Bolin
Eli Bolin recently received acclaim for his music and lyrics in the Atlantic Theater Company's production of Found (based on the popular magazine), with a book by Hunter Bell. Bolin has been an interesting new voice floating around in musical theatre since I Sing, his collaboration with Sam Forman and Benjamin Salka, opened Off-Broadway in 2001. His eclectic work, infusing classic rock elements with more presentational styles, reminiscent of children's television, has often been compared to that of William Finn and made him a fan favorite for his many Off-Broadway and regional musicals. Bolin has had success writing for television (including "Sesame Street") and with his band, Amazing Jellies, and deserves to be represented on Broadway.
9. Jeff Marx
The 2004 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Avenue Q, continues to sparkle Off-Broadway at New World Stages, where the production transferred in 2009. One of its two songwriters, Bobby Lopez, has gone on to write megahit The Book of Mormon (with Trey Parker and Matt Stone), as well as songs for Disney’s "Frozen" and Neil Patrick Harris’ opening number for the Academy Awards (with Kristen Anderson-Lopez). It is high time for New York to hear from Avenue Q’s other songwriter. Hopes are high for Home Street Home, a new musical written by Marx, together with punk rock musician Fat Mike (NOFX) and writer Goddess Soma, currently enjoying a premiere engagement at San Francisco’s Z Space though March 7.
Craig Carnelia had the misfortune of beginning his musical theatre in the midst of Broadway's "British Invasion" of the 1980s, a time when the only shows that seemed to succeed were mammoth pop operas on epic themes. It's a wonder Carnelia's human-scaled work was produced at all. He eventually found other ways to contribute, including writing lyrics (to Marvin Hamlisch's music for Sweet Smell of Success, among other things) and has become one of the most sought-after teachers in musical theatre. Still anyone who listens to his wonderful songs for 1982's Is There Life After High School? will agree this guy's got more Broadway scores in him yet.
7. Paul Simon
This one may be kind of a long shot. I don't know whether Paul Simon could be lured back to Broadway after the difficult experience he must have had on 1998's The Capeman, now a cult favorite. But the original cast album reveals a musical storyteller well suited for the stage. Of course, this is no surprise, as Paul Simon's songs (solo and with Art Garfunkel) are some of the twentieth century's most vivid touchstones of American culture.
6. Jeff Bowen
Broadway was forever changed by 2008's landmark meta-musical [title of show]. Jeff Bowen's songs again found perfect harmony in Hunter Bell's book (co-written with Susan Blackwell, based on collaboration with Bowen, Michael Berresse, Heidi Blickenstaff and Larry Pressgrove) for 2012's Off-Broadway Now.Here.This. Those two musicals were thrilling and groundbreaking, and a major part of what made them so affecting was Bowen's immediately accessible music and lyrics. I long to hear his work on another show, perhaps even something more traditional.
5. Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich
If anyone who cares about musicals hasn't heard the names Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, they've probably heard their work. Several of their songs, especially "Taylor, the Latte Boy" and "The Alto's Lament," have become cabaret standards. "Marcy and Zina" (as they're known in their popular club act) have also written the scores for the enormously successful children's musicals, Dear Edwina and Junie B. Jones. It's astounding to me that their tuneful, joyous work has yet to play Broadway.
This one is something of a no-brainer. Stephen Schwartz wrote the enormously popular songs for what is arguably the biggest Broadway hit of the last 15 years or so. I don't even need to mention that the show is Wicked — it's an international blockbuster. And Schwartz has fashioned some of the best showtunes around for decades since his 1970s work like Godspell, Pippin and The Baker's Wife. Fans can take heart as Schwartz’s stage adaptation (with Alan Menken and Peter Parnell) of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, will soon begin performances at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.
3. Jerry Herman
As Jerry Herman's mega-watt showstopper, "Hello, Dolly!" (from the eponymous watershed musical) proclaims, "It's so nice to have you back where you belong." Well, where ya been, Jer? Yes, the Broadway climate has changed and it's harder than ever for original work to succeed, and the producers may win or lose money, but the fans will have a cast album to cherish either way.
With all my heart and soul, I hope that all the hoopla around the Broadway triumph of Hedwig And The Angry Inch has made the definitive case for the brilliant Stephen Trask as a Broadway songwriter. Trask's Hedwig score consists of 11 stellar songs that make you laugh and cry and cheer, and which you want to sing for days and weeks and years after hearing them. There's not a forgettable tune in the stack. Why has it been more than 15 years since Hedwig And The Angry Inch debuted Off-Broadway and we still have yet to hear from Trask? Someone do something about this!
Finally, the number one songwriter most overdue for a new show is, of course, another Stephen, the undisputed master of modern musical theatre, Stephen Sondheim. There's so much excitement and expectation around a new Sondheim musical, it's almost impossible to just experience the work on its own terms. I realized the weight of this sitting at the Café Caryle for the late, great Elaine Stritch's penultimate club act there, "Singin' Sondheim… One Song At A Time." One of the most powerful moments in the (entirely powerful) show was her rendition of "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened" from Road Show, a number I'd almost forgotten since seeing the musical at The Public Theater. Now, thanks to Stritch — and of course, Sondheim — it is one of my favorite songs. To paraphrase the great man's own words, "Give us more to sing."
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money, running in repertory through April 29 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)