Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Daniel Messé, Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew Have Received the 30th Annual Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre


Daniel Messé, Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew Have Received the 30th Annual Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre

The Kleban Foundation celebrates the 30th anniversary of the annual Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre with the announcement of the 2020 prize winners. The Kleban Prize for the most promising musical theatre lyricist has been awarded to Daniel Messé. The Kleban Prize for the most promising musical theatre librettist has been awarded to co-librettists Rehana Lew Mirza and Mike Lew. The 2020 prizes will be presented on Monday, February 3, in a private ceremony (by invitation only) hosted by ASCAP and BMI at ASCAP.

Since its inception, Kleban Prize winners have been selected by judging panels comprised of the theatre's most respected artists and administrators. The trio of Tony Award-winning judges making the final determination this year were playwright/parodist/actor/director of and Forbidden Broadway creator Gerard Alessandrini; actor/director Victoria Clark (Light in the Piazza, Cinderella); and producer Robyn Goodman (Avenue Q, In The Heights).

The Kleban Foundation was established in 1988 under the will of Edward L. Kleban, best known as the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning lyricist of the musical A Chorus Line. Kleban's will made provisions for annual prizes, which in recent years have totaled $100,000 each, payable over two years, to be given to the most promising lyricist and librettist in American Musical Theatre. For 30 years, the Kleban Prize, which has recognized and honored some of the American musical theatre's brightest developing talents, is unique in that it is bestowed not just for an artist's previous achievements, but for the promise of creativity to come.

Over the past 30 years, the annual Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre has awarded over $6,000,000 to 76 artists who collectively have garnered four Tony Awards (with nearly 30 Tony nominations), 59 Emmy Awards, three Grammy Awards, 10 Drama Desk Awards, nine Outer Critic Circle Awards, four Obie Awards, two Olivier Awards, and two Pulitzer Prizes. The list of previous Kleban Prize winners includes Lisa Kron (Fun Home), Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak(A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder),David Lindsay-Abaire (Shrek), Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years), John Bucchino (A Catered Affair, It's Only Life), Gretchen Cryer (I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, The Last Sweet Days of Isaac), Michael Korie (Grey Gardens, Happiness), Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), Michael John LaChiusa (Giant, See What I Wanna See, The Wild Party), Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid) and John Weidman (Pacific Overtures, Road Show, Assassins). For a complete listing of the last 30 years of Kleban Prize winners, see the list at the end of this document.

"This year we celebrate 30 years of the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre," says Tony Award winner Richard Maltby Jr, President of the Kleban Foundation. "For three decades, the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre has been one of the theatre's most distinctive honors. Ed Kleban recognized that theatrical wordsmiths had the hardest time supporting themselves while honing their craft, and so the Kleban awards are specifically for librettists and lyricists. While other theatre awards recognize the best of the past season, the Kleban Prize celebrates work yet to be done. With a uniquely generous endowment, the Kleban Prize identifies, celebrates and supports the most promising writing talent in the theatre, just when emerging writers and established writers need help the most. The Kleban Foundation is proud to carry on Ed Kleban's enlightened legacy, and to continue fostering the work of new writers, as well as supporting writers who have already begun to establish themselves. Kleban Prize winners are the artists who are going to define the art form for years to come."


DANIEL MESSÉ (2020 Kleban Prize winner, most promising musical theatre lyricist)is the founder and principal songwriter of the band Hem, which began in 2001 with their debut album, Rabbit Songs. In 2009, The Public Theatre tapped Hem to score their summer Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night(starring Anne Hathaway and Audra McDonald, Directed by Daniel Sullivan) for which they earned a Drama Desk Nomination. Along with Craig Lucas (book) and Nathan Tysen (co-lyrics), Daniel wrote the music and lyrics for the musical adaptation of the French film Amélie, which debuted on Broadway in 2017 (Directed by Pam McKinnon) after successful runs at Berkeley Rep and Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre. Daniel has written four musicals for TheatreWorks USA with collaborator Mindi Dickstein (book, lyrics). Awards for theatre include a Jonathan Larson Grant from the American Theatre Wing, the ASCAP/Frederick Loewe Award, and an E.Y. "Yip" Harburg Fellowship. Currently, Daniel is at work on a new theatrical song cycle inspired by Twain's Huck Finn (You Don't Know About Me Without You). He is also working together again with Craig Lucas (book) along with Sean Hartley (co-lyrics) on adapting Craig's play, Prelude to a Kiss, for South Coast Rep. Education includes a BA from Carleton College and an MFA from NYU's Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

Rehana Lew Mirza & Mike Lew (2020 Kleban Prize winners, most promising musical theatre librettist) are married playwrights sharing a Mellon Foundation National Playwright residency at Ma-Yi Theater, and a previous Artist-in-Residence at La Jolla Playhouse. Their Rodgers Award-winning musical Bhangin' It (co-book writers with composer Sam Willmott) is upcoming at La Jolla Playhouse and McCarter; previous workshops include LJP/Ma-Yi/Jerome, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, Goodspeed, Orchard Project, Running Deer, and Project Springboard. They are also collaborating on The Colonialism Project (LJP commission).Individually, Rehana's plays include Hatefuck (WP/Colt Coeur; upcoming at Roundhouse); A People's Guide to History in the Time of Here and Now (Primary Stages commission; AADA workshop); Soldier X (Ma-Yi; Brooklyn College; NYSCA/Lark commission); and Barriers (Desipina, Asian American Theater Company). Mike's plays include Teenage Dick (Donmar Warehouse, Ma-Yi at the Public, Artists Rep, upcoming Woolly Mammoth/Huntington); Tiger Style! (Olney, Huntington, LJP, Alliance); Bike America (Ma-Yi, Alliance); and microcrisis (Ma-Yi, InterAct). Rehana's honors include 2019 NYFA Fellow, Colt Coeur company member, HBO Access Fellow, Lilly Award (Stacey Mindich "Go Write A Play"), and a TCG/New Georges Fellowship. Mike is a Tony Voter and Dramatists Guild Council member with honors including Lark Venturous and NYFA fellowships; and the PEN, Lanford Wilson, Helen Merrill, Heideman, and Kendeda awards.

Related Articles View More Industry Stories

Buy at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

More Hot Stories For You