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Amas Musical Theatre Announces Recipients of Third Eric H. Weinberger Award for Emerging Librettists

Mr. Caruso and Mr. Lee will receive development assistance from the “New Works Development Program” of Amas Musical Theatre, culminating in the work being performed.

Amas Musical Theatre Announces Recipients of Third Eric H. Weinberger Award for Emerging Librettists

Amas Musical Theatre today announced the recipients of the third Eric H. Weinberger Award for Emerging Librettists, a juried cash and production grant given annually to support the early work and career of a deserving musical theatre librettist, commemorating the life and work of playwright/librettist Eric H. Weinberger (1950-2017), who was a Drama Desk Award nominee for Best Book of a Musical (Wanda's World), and the playwright/librettist of Class Mothers '68, which earned Pricilla Lopez a Drama Desk Award nomination.

Gabe Caruso and Sangwoo 'Simon' Lee, 2020 graduates of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, were selected from over 48 blind submissions for their full-length musical SETTLE DOWN: A New Hip Hop Musical. In addition to a check for $2,000 to help pay cost-of-living expenses, Mr. Caruso and Mr. Lee receive development assistance from the "New Works Development Program" of Amas Musical Theatre, culminating in the work being rehearsed and performed by New York theatre professionals in an Amas Lab production. Amas was the development home for several of Mr. Weinberger's musicals, and which produced the World Premiere of Wanda's World and the New York Premiere of Tea for Three.

Settle Down: A New Hip Hop Musical **is a rapped-through, romantic musical that follows the story of two teens as they move from best friends to family. A small cast show, four characters and a narrator/emcee explore the darker sides of the foster system, school expulsion, teen pregnancy and suicide. Though the scenes are all rapped, the musical moments encompass a wide variety of genres ranging from K-Pop to folk. At its very core, the show asks the question, "What does it take to truly be a family?"

In an artistic statement for the submission Mr. Caruso said "When Sangwoo and I set out to write Settle Down, we had a few goals for our vision: It would be a rapped-through musical with song moments, it would be performed by a very small cast, we would keep the locations to a minimum, keep the story about family, and fill each character with secrets that would be devastating for other characters to learn. It has always been our intention to make a show that would be easily producible. For this reason, it takes place mostly within our family's home, with the few exceptions being a scene at school, and a couple of scenes on a bridge. Since this show is about the universality of family, we felt it would be best to write a show that has very few barriers to produce. While writing this hip-hopera, we have assumed that it will be compared to Hamilton, but we believe that this piece couldn't be further from Lin's masterpiece. This story doesn't revolve around one character, but instead focuses on the complex relationships and roles people are forced to assume while living under the same roof. This show was written by a caucasian American male of Cuban descent, and a Korean male. As you proceed, you will see that many of our characters are listed as non-white. This is due to two reasons. First, we did not want our protagonist, Mark, to be a white male. Given the current climate of the United States, we don't want this to be a hip-hopera about how hard it is to be white in America. We also don't want Lily and John to be white because we do not wish to contribute another white savior story to the world. Secondly, we are aware that hip-hop is an artform created by Blacks, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, and Haitians, out of conditions of poverty that were created by white politicians. We ask that anyone interested in putting up this show stick strictly to the racial guidelines for those three characters. Lastly, we wanted to create a show that has highs and lows, but at its core, we want the audience to understand that life is not always what it seems. We rarely know the full story, or the full range of emotions the people we interact have gone through. It is our hope that this show pushes those who see it to be more accepting of those around them, and understand that everyone makes mistakes, but no mistake is irredeemable."

Mr. Lee shared the development process: "Settle Down is our thesis that we created while earning our M.F.A.'s at NYU-Tisch. Originally our musical was based off of a news story where a doctor at a fertility clinic was being arrested for using his own sperm in over 40 cases. After a few drafts, we realized that this story felt cruel in that our characters were being punished for something they didn't deserve. We went back to the drawing board and focused on what is really important to us. We wanted our characters to have to deal with consequences of their own actions rather than having difficulties thrust upon themselves. We looked within ourselves and asked what we wanted to spend the year writing about. We came up with one word: family. The journey of writing our show has taken us down many twists and turns, but when the chips are/were down, we have always stayed true to the central theme of familial love, and the concept of unconventional family structures. At its base, this is a story about Mark, a foster kid who has never had a family, and his deep desire to belong to one. The other characters in this piece also have a desire to be part of something greater, but struggle to give up what they have in order to become vulnerable enough to love and be loved."

"We are very happy to welcome Gabe and Simon to the Amas family, says Donna Trinkoff, Artistic Producer of Amas Musical Theatre. "We are happy to continue to commemorate Eric's memory and look forward to futher developing this important piece."

Gabe Caruso is an NYC based rapper/actor/playwright who enjoys nothing more than breaking expectations. After graduating from Second City's Conservatory and Musical Conservatory in 2012 and 2013, he went on to perform dramatic improv as an ensemble member of Theatre Momentum, where he began teaching theater. He taught and performed for the up and coming comedy theatre Under the Gun in Chicago for two years. His first hip-hop-centric one man show, "The Greatest Rappers Alive" received rave reviews, and encouraged him to write a full length rap show. Self-produced, "Dundee" became a fan-favorite, earning him the accolades of "Best Playwright," and "Best New Play" by the Chicago Reader in 2017. He then left Chicago to attend NYU Tisch, where he earned his M.F.A. in Musical Theatre Writing in 2020. He now resides in East Harlem with his wife, Colleen.

Sangwoo 'Simon' Lee is a NYC-based singer/song-writer and music director originally from South Korea. He has written music for the musicals ANDERSON (National Theater Company of Korea) in 2014 and Just Sex (Seoul Institute of the Arts) in 2013, each of which was premiered in Seoul, South Korea. He also had a national tour in South Korea with UGLY DUCKLING (Street Theatre Troupe) from 2014 to 2018 as a composer and music director. Simon has also composed many K-pop songs for other singers. Simon's work has been performed in MA, NYC andSeoul. He has a BS in songwriting from Berklee College of Music and recently earned M.F.A in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU Tisch School of Arts.

Eric H. Weinberger (1950-2017) was a playwright and musical theatre librettist. His credits include Class Mothers '68, starring Priscilla Lopez (Off Broadway and Luna Stage - Star Ledger Award for Best New Comedy in NJ), Six Hands (Yale University and Luna Stage), The Nightwatchman (Luna Stage and On the Rock Productions, Key West), Tea for Three, with and starring Elaine Bromka (Amas Musical Theatre and touring the country since 2004, www.teaforthree.com), three children shows at Andy's Summer Playhouse in Peterborough, NH. Musicals: Wanda's World (Amas Musical Theatre, Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Book of a Musical, Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Musical) and published by Theatrical Rights Worldwide, www.wandasworldmusical.com), ...and Then I Wrote A Song About It (Luna Stage and The Diversionary Theatre in San Diego, www.andtheniwroteasongaboutit.com), Brothers, Boyfriends and Other Criminals, (Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas), A Dog Story (Off Broadway and The Waterfront Playhouse, Key West). Workshop production of Giant Steps, an "urbean" version of Jack & The Beanstalk (U of Texas in Austin).


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