History: BMI and Musical Theatre

A strong story with memorable songs is hard to resist, and the musical theatre offers countless examples of this winning combination. BMI has supported this unique American art form from the start and opened its musical theatre department in 1957. It represents some of its most successful creators, including John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Cabaret), Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock (Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me, Fiorello), Lionel Bart (Oliver), Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (Stop The World I Want To Get Off, The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd), Roger Miller (Big River), Elton John (The Lion King), Alan Menken (Sister Act, Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop Of Horrors), Mel Brooks (The Producers), Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic), David Yazbek (The Full Monte, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (Avenue Q), Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening), Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), and Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon).

BMI also recognizes that the musical theatre writers of tomorrow must nurture their craft under the guidance of master writers. To that end, it created the Musical Theatre Workshop in 1961. Its first director was Lehman Engel, one of the preeminent figures on Broadway whose career dated back to 1936. The workshop comprises several elements. In the first year, songwriters complete assignments with the goal of creating a ten minute musical. The second year builds upon those skills and focuses on a complete musical. An advanced group expands on these skills and is led by some of the leading lights of the musical theatre, including Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic), Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime), Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q, Book of Mormon), Richard Maltby (Miss Saigon, Big), and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens). Finally, a librettists workshop specifically works on the creation of a book, and the members collaborate with the other songwriters.

The workshops are free but require an application form and submission of material. Finalists will be asked to audition these materials before the instructors. Students need not be BMI members.

BMI also conducts a biannual competition to select the winner of the Jerry Bock Award, for the best musical by a workshop member who is a BMI affiliate. The Workshop Committee selects the final winner, and a monetary prize is given.

Among the successful members and graduates of the BMI workshop are Ed Kleban (A Chorus Line), Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast), Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic), Judd Woldin (Raisin), Lynn Ahrens and Steve Flaherty (Ragtime), Carol Hall (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (Avenue Q), Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), Susan Birkenhead (Jelly’s Last Jam, Triumph of Love), Michael Korie (Grey Gardens), Gerard Allesandrini (Forbidden Broadway), and Robert Lopez (The Book of Mormon).

In the words of Workshop founder Lehman Engel, “It takes ten years to learn to be a good doctor or lawyer. Creative people should be given equal time and opportunity to burnish their talent. If they have responsibility and sufficient knowledge as an undercoating to their talent, they’ll come through and ultimately be marvelous.”