Joriah Kwamé, Beth Malone & More to Join 11th Annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals 

16 Brand New Musicals will be developed during this year’s exclusive retreat.

By: Jan. 30, 2023
Joriah Kwamé, Beth Malone & More to Join 11th Annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals 
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Now celebrating its 11th anniversary, Goodspeed Musicals has announced the participants for the annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals which will be held January 31 - February 27 on the Goodspeed campus in East Haddam, Connecticut. A distinguished group of 34 established and emerging composers, lyricists and librettists representing 16 new musicals will gather in East Haddam creating a truly exceptional environment for discovery and inspiration at one of the premier writers' residencies in the nation.

Established in 2013, The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed is an unparalleled, long-term residency program devoted exclusively to musical theatre writing. It provides a sanctuary for composers, lyricists, and librettists to embark on new musical theatre work or to devote a substantial amount of time to a work-in-progress in an environment rich with creative energy. For four weeks, starting January 31, the writing teams work in residence in Goodspeed's Artists Village, each team in their own house, with whatever support is needed, from dramaturgical to Goodspeed's fine music department. In the evenings writers get together in an informal, salon-style environment and share the day's work. This gathering allows the artists an invaluable opportunity to gain insight from their colleagues. The Grove is the ultimate think tank of veteran Broadway and young working professionals in theater today.

"I have worked with JMF Writers Grove since its inception and each year I am humbled and inspired by the amazing group of musical theatre creators who join us on the Goodspeed campus. I am awed to listen to their beautiful work and to know that these artists will ensure that the future of musical theatre is vibrant, inclusive and exciting," said Donna Lynn Hilton, Goodspeed Musicals' Artistic Director.

Jonathan Brielle, Executive Vice President of JMF and Writer/Producer in Residence stated, "Years ago, when I described the Grove as the think tank for new musicals, I could only dream it would become the success it is today. Over 300 emerging and award-winning writers have participated, including teams represented on Broadway right now. It has become an experience I look forward to all year long."

Over the course of the program, Jonathan Brielle will again serve as a writer and Producer in Residence. His first Broadway credit was writing music and lyrics for Foxfire starring theater legends Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy (who won the Tony) and Keith Carradine. Subsequently, he became Composer in Residence of the prestigious Circle Repertory Company in New York, providing scores for some of New York's top playwrights. His recent credits include his slightly autobiographical show, A Monkey and Me, Stories I Never Told My Mother (book, music, lyrics) Axelrod Performing Arts Center, in which he starred with Tovah Feldshuh and Veanne Cox; Himself and Nora (book, music, lyrics), Minetta Lane Theater; Nightmare Alley (book, music, lyrics), Geffen Playhouse; and A Monkey and Me (book, music, lyrics), Eugene O'Neill Cabaret Conference. His Las Vegas shows include book, music and lyrics for Enter The Night (Stardust) and MADhattan (New York, New York). For television, he is the music director and composer for Wonderama on the Tribune network and is the founder of Vala Musicals, a streaming platform for new shows and forever free musical theater education. At this year's JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed, Jonathan will be working with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jake Bernstein on an untitled project.

Blair Russell will serve as Producer in Residence. Mr. Russell is a producer, developer, supporter and lover of theatre and live performances whose experience ranges from fringe festivals to Broadway shows. His most recent theatre projects include the Tony-nominated Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris, Lizard Boy by Justin Huertas, and the new musicals For Tonight and EPIC. As Co-Founder of Resounding, he produces live immersive entertainment. He is currently Co-President of the board of New York Theatre Barn, Vice Chair of the board of The New Harmony Project and a member of the Board of Trustees of Goodspeed Musicals.

Clifford Lee Johnson III will serve as Resident Dramaturge. As part of Wonder City Productions, he produces and develops new plays and musicals. Their current project is a new musical about a beloved American figure. Between 1993 and 2009, he was the Director of Musical Development at Manhattan Theatre Club; prior to that he was the Assistant Literary Manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville. He has been a critic for BACKSTAGE and published articles on the theater in various publications. He has also taught at the Kenyon Playwrights Conference and served as an adviser during the creation of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Mr. Johnson recently co-created the Theater Consultants Resource website, a centralized location for consultants wishing to share information and clients seeking to locate consultants. He is especially proud of participating in a citizen-scientist effort to discover new planets. So far, he has one to his credit.

Goodspeed's Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton is guiding Goodspeed Musicals' efforts on The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed with additional artistic support from Goodspeed Artistic Associate Michael Fling and Line Producer Stephen Agosto.

Establishing the Grove created a confluence of Goodspeed's long-held mission of fostering new works and JMF's dedication to nurturing the discipline of songwriting. With this unique collaboration, Goodspeed continues to be an incubator for the next generation of musical theatre artists and performers, as well as the home of the American Musical. This is best illustrated by several projects that Goodspeed has moved from The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed forward to full production including the acclaimed 2019 productions of Passing Through by Brett Ryback and Eric Ulloa and Hi, My Name Is Ben by Scott Gilmour and Claire MacKenzie as well as the 2017 productions of Deathless and Darling Grenadine, Indian Joe in 2015, and Chasing Rainbows in 2016. In 2023, Goodspeed will be further developing Private Gomer Jones by Marshall Pailet which also was included in Goodspeed's 2020 Festival of New Musicals. Other notable productions from the Grove include the Pulitzer Prize and 2022 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson.

The Grove is pleased to announce that the 2023 participants are (in alphabetical order) Melis Aker, Jake Bernstein, Jonathan Brielle, Jonatha Brooke, Jessie Burton, Jeff Chambers, Jacinta Clusellas, Paula Cole, Jennifer Lucy Cook, Lauren Du Pree, Scott Gilmour, Mark Governor, Jasmine Joshua, Joriah Kwamé, Patrick Lundquist, Beth Malone, Claire McKenzie, Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako, Geoffrey Nauffts, Tatiana Pandiani, T.J. Peiffer, Barnaby Race, Heather Ragusa, Lynn Rosen, Janet Roston, Emily Sailers, Marc Sambola, Jesse J. Sanchez, Peter Seibert, Shelby Solla, Mary Ann Stratton, Shea Sullivan, Melvin Tunstall III and Pia Wilson.

The outstanding writers who have been invited to participate in the 2023 JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed have earned tremendous recognition in the industry with honors including a Grammy Award, Pulitzer Prizes, ASCAP's Harold Arlen Award, Sundance fellow, NAACP award, Walt Disney Imagineering New Voices, Great British Podcast Award, Member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, "Best Score" award in the Seattle 48 Hour Horror Film Festival, McKnight Artist Fellowship Grant, International Acoustic Music Award for Best Female Artist, Outer Critics Circle's John Gassner Award for Best New American Play, Independent Music Award, Sundance Interdisciplinary Program grant, National Directors Fellowship from the O'Neill Center, Naledi Award, the South African equivalent to the Tony Award, Webby award, ASCAP Foundation Cole Porter Award, Ovation Award, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, Premis de la Crítica Award for Best Composition, National Book Awards Book of the Year, Waterstones Book of the Year, Cantus Emerging Composer Award, Unique Business of the Year at the Scottish Business Awards and NYMF Publishing Award among other awards and nominations.


The mission of the Johnny Mercer Foundation (JMF) is to support the discipline of songwriting in the tradition of the Great American Songbook as exemplified by the life and work of the legendary Johnny Mercer: lyricist, composer, performer, collaborator and producer. The Foundation continues Johnny's legacy by partnering with individuals and organizations dedicated to celebrating and nourishing the disciplines he mastered and the causes he and his wife Ginger Mercer championed.
JMF has created a number of dynamic creative joint ventures with several prestigious institutions to facilitate their goals including the Johnny Mercer Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals, Accentuate the Positive Programs (New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta), The Musical Theater Program at NJPAC, Georgia State University Fellowship Program, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project with Northwestern University and the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University. JMF also supports the Johnny Mercer Music Program at the Braille Institute, Los Angeles. For more information, please visit


Goodspeed Musicals has achieved international acclaim and is the first theatre in the nation to receive two Tony Awards for outstanding achievement in musical theatre. Under the leadership of Donna Lynn Hilton, Artistic Director and David B. Byrd, Managing Director, Goodspeed Musicals is dedicated to the celebration, development and advancement of musical theatre. Goodspeed creates powerful, world-class productions of enlightening new and established works to entertain and inspire audiences. From Goodspeed, 21 musicals have gone to Broadway (including Man of La Mancha, Annie, Shenandoah and Holiday Inn) and more than 90 new musicals have been launched. Goodspeed's Festival of New Musicals, GoodWorks commissioning program and The Johnny Mercer Writers Grove at Goodspeed are distinguished cornerstones of the organization that highlight its commitment to nurture the talents of new and established artists and support the creative process. Goodspeed also maintains The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre and The Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre. Goodspeed gratefully acknowledges the support of The Shubert Foundation, Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development; CT Humanities; and the National Endowment for the Arts.