Librettist DiLallo and Lyricist Benjamin Snag 2003 Kleban Awards

News   Librettist DiLallo and Lyricist Benjamin Snag 2003 Kleban Awards
Susan DiLallo and Nell Benjamin were named 2003 Kleban Award recipients by the Kleban Foundation and New Dramatists, which present the annual award to librettists and lyricists.

The Kleban Foundation was established in 1988 under the will of Edward L. Kleban, best known as the Tony and Pulitzer Prize award winner for the musical A Chorus Line. The will made provision for two annual awards, each in the amount of $100,000 payable over two years, to be given to "the most promising lyricist and librettist in American musical theatre." The judges making the final determination this year were Arthur Kopit, Frank Wildhorn and Charles Leipart.

DiLallo (who won in the librettist category) wrote book and lyrics for the original musical, Once Upon a Time in New Jersey (music by Stephen Weiner), which premiered at the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre in Allentown, PA in 2002 and was awarded a Richard Rodgers Development Award for 2003. She also wrote book and lyrics to Pinocchio (music by Jeffrey Harris), winner of the 2003 Hangar Theatre KIDDSTUFF New Play Competition, which will premiere this summer in Ithaca, NY. Her Off-Broadway lyric credits include That’s Life (Outer Critics Circle nominee) and This Week in the Suburbs, a comedy revue. Her regional work includes lyrics to A Christmas Valentine, Stages 2001, and a series of grown-up fairy tales — The Girl in the 'Hood, If the Shoe Fits and The Luck of the Irish Frog Prince — for New Tuners, Chicago. Her lyrics have been showcased at the Dramatists Guild, ASCAP and BMI. Theme songs include: "Read Me a Story" (Barbara Bush’s radio show), "I Like the Sprite in You," and "If You Still Believe in Me, Save Me" (Statue of Liberty renovation).

Her pop songs have been performed by Kathy Mattea, the Olsen Twins, and Jo Sullivan, among others. DiLallo has written articles for Cosmopolitan, Brides and Glamour. For several years she wrote a humor column, Ham on Rye, for the Rye (NY) Record. She is a member of BMI, BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop (alumna), New Tuners, and The Dramatists Guild. She is represented by The Susan Gurman Agency.

Benjamin (who won for lyrics) had her introduction to musical theatre when she co-wrote book and lyrics for the 145th production of Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the nation's oldest collegiate drag show. She went on to write for the television sitcom "Unhappily Ever After," and for the critically acclaimed animation website

She wrote the lyrics for The Mice (music by Laurence O'Keefe, book by Julia Jordan, directed by Brad Rouse), one of three short musicals produced as 3hree by Harold Prince at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia, where it won the Barrymore Award for outstanding overall musical. 3hree was later produced at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, where it was nominated for an Ovation Award. Benjamin was also the lyricist for Sarah, Plain and Tall (music by Laurence O'Keefe, book by Julia Jordan, directed by Joe Calarco), based on the popular children's book and produced by TheatreWorks USA. Sarah received an AT&T First Stage grant and ran at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York City in 2002. In 2003, she won a Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Grant and was nominated for a MAC award.

In 2002, she won a scholarship to the Southampton College Writers' Conference, whose instructors included Jules Feiffer, Frank McCourt, Roger Rosenblatt, Bharati Mukherjee, and U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. Benjamin is currently working on her fifth musical with composer Laurence O'Keefe, her second musical for TheatreWorks USA, and her first opera with composer Michael Roth.

For submission guidelines and an application for the 2003-04 Kleban Awards, visit the New Dramatists website,, in May 2003. The postmark deadline for the next competition is September 15, 2003.


In 1949, playwright Michaela O'Harra founded New Dramatists in order to "find gifted playwrights and give them the time, space and the tools to develop their craft, so that they may fulfill their potential and make lasting contributions to the theatre." The group's playwright development program includes a play and musical reading series, fellowships for emerging writers, national and international playwright exchanges, administrative support for resident playwrights, playwriting grants and awards, and ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of playwrights in the national theatre community.

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