In response to the hardships brought on by COVID-19 for performers and songwriters, the Kurt Weill Foundation has provided financial support to participants chosen for the Lotte Lenya Competition Songbook, a new collection of sixteen contemporary theater songs by nineteen emerging writers. Broadway luminaries Kelli O’Hara, Andrew Lippa, and Andy Einhorn selected the songs from a diverse pool of sixty-six submissions. Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara exclaimed, “Never have I needed music so much, and the opportunity I was given to stop, sit and listen to these brand new musical voices was a pure gift.”
The Songbook is accompanied by audio recordings performed by sixteen Lenya Competition prizewinners to showcase their talents as stages remain dark. The Foundation funded all honoraria as well as recording and administrative costs for the composers, lyricists, and singers. Information about the songs, including recordings and sheet music, is available; the Preface to the Songbook describes the purpose and execution of the project.
New creative relationships between songwriters and performers have evolved in the process. Writer Ben Wexler welcomed the experience of working closely with 2012 Competition prizewinner Jacob Keith Watson: “collaborating with a fellow artist on making a song come to life has been a welcome breath of oxygen.” 2007 prizewinner Analisa Leaming, who recently appeared as Anna in Lincoln Center’s The King and I and Irene in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway and the national tour, said the experience has been “creatively fulfilling,” and that she relished the chance to “continue to hone my craft and make music again.”
The Songbook represents a wide range of ages, perspectives, and character and vocal types for today’s versatile singing actors, particularly Competition contestants seeking fresh and challenging material for one of the required repertory categories. Songwriting team Isabella Dawis and Tidtaya Sinutoke noted that the project is “a welcome gesture of inclusion, inviting BIPOC stories into the musical theater repertoire.” Seven songs present male characters, seven female, with one each for transgender and gender-neutral characters. Five songs are intended for characters of color. As an architect of the Songbook project, Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to amplify voices of all kinds. I’m thrilled by the reach of the project and the persistence of the Kurt Weill Foundation to promote collaboration and partnership during these isolating times.”
Nominated by professionals with experience developing new works, the participating songwriters are Julianne Wick Davis, Anna K. Jacobs, Daniel Rudin, Mark Sonnenblick, Katya Stanislavskaya, Ben Wexler, and Daniel Zaitchik. The songwriting teams include Derrick Byars-Tia DeShazor, Melissa Li-Kit Yan, Douglas Lyons-Ethan Pakchar, Will Reynolds-Eric Price, Josh Schmidt-Royce Vavrek, and Tidtaya Sinutoke-Isabella Dawis.
Participating prizewinners of the Lotte Lenya Competition are Alison Arnopp (2013), Natalie Ballenger (2014), Felipe Bombonato (2017), Christian Douglas (2018), Nkrumah Gatling (2018), Amy Justman (2004), Analisa Leaming (2007), Erik Liberman (2005), Michael Maliakel (2015), Gemma Nha (2020), Jim Schubin (2016), Brian Vu (2016), Jacob Keith Watson (2012), Nyla Watson (2019), Jeremy Weiss (2020), and Lauren Worsham (2009).