The 2017 Kurt Weill Prize for an outstanding scholarly book on music theater since 1900 has been awarded to Agnes de Mille: Telling Stories in Broadway Dance, by Kara Anne Gardner, published by Oxford University Press as part of the Broadway Legacy Series in 2016. Gardner offers an in-depth study of de Mille’s radical reimagining of the function and execution of dance in the Broadway musical in the 1940s, beginning with her ground-breaking work on Oklahoma! (1943) and including Brigadoon and Carousel. Soon after Oklahoma!, de Mille choreographed the original production of One Touch of Venus, by Weill, Ogden Nash (book and lyrics), and S.J. Perelman (book), which featured Mary Martin in the title role. Gardner shows that Weill and de Mille’s similar views about the use of music (for Weill) and dance (for de Mille) as a means of storytelling made them especially compatible as collaborators. Gardner writes of their interactions, “She also found Kurt Weill, who treated her like an equal, to be a perfect partner.” The award carries a cash prize of $5,000. The panelists described Gardner’s work as “a model of musical theater scholarship,” and “a very impressive and important book that forcefully establishes Agnes de Mille’s unique importance in Broadway theatre.”
The $2,000 prize for an article recognized “Popularization or Perversion?: Folklore and Folksong in Britten’s Paul Bunyan” by Suzanne Robinson, published in American Music in 2016. The author takes on issues of American national identity expressed in folklore and music and how it was explored and questioned by foreign-born (in this case, British) artists. The prize panelists selected Robinson’s article from a pool of fifty-two nominees, noting that it “illuminates a really significant issue within an important and unusual work.” Robinson is an honorary fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Awarded biennially by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, the Kurt Weill Prizes recognize distinguished scholarship in music theater since 1900, including opera and dance. Books and articles published in 2015-2016 were eligible for the 2017 prize; nominations were reviewed by a panel of music and theater experts.