BMI Workshop Offers Students Crash Course in Musical Theatre

Posted in News on November 10, 2006
The Tony-honored BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop hosted a group of 20 students from Valparaiso (Indiana) High School for a one-day "mini-workshop" session. The teens, who actively write musical theatre pieces during the school year under the direction of Alice Gambel using the teachings of Workshop founder Lehman Engel, come to New York every other year to present their works to the Workshop's esteemed faculty.

Valparaiso High School students and teachers gather with Workshop faculty at the day-long interactive seminar. Pictured are (back row): Dan Nellessen, Elizabeth Uzelac, Drew Nellesen, Richard Engquist, Tom Leland, Andria Kessler, Molly Vass, Tanau Popli, Aaron Porter, Mark Blane, Alan Chambers; (middle row): Ann Nellessen, Becky Schoon, Kathy McMillan, Laura Punter, Jamie Patton, Lindsay Babcock, Erin Gerig, Erika Marinello; (front row): Frank Evans, Jean Banks, Nancy Golladay, Alice Gambel, David Spencer, Pat Cook and Daniel Pritchett. 

BMI Workshop moderators Rick Freyer and Pat Cook, who also serves as Artistic Coordinator, gave a short presentation, and then joined faculty members David Spencer (Kleban Award recipient for Weird Romance), Frank Evans (Jerry Bock Award for Dinner at Eight), Richard Engquist (Outer Critics Circle nominee for Kuni-Leml) and Librettist Workshop moderator Nancy Golladay to critique the students' songs. Spencer, author of "The Musical Theatre Writer's Survival Guide," also spoke about writing hit musicals.

Special guest Michael Korie and Workshop faculty member Frank Evans

Special guest Michael Korie-Kleban and Larson Award-winning lyricist of Grey Gardens, which opened to rave reviews at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre-participated in a Q&A session with the students, who saw a performance of his show the night before. Korie's other credits include the operas Kabbalah and Harvey Milk, performed at New York City Opera and San Francisco Opera, and the upcoming musical version of Dr. Zhivago, which premiered in La Jolla, Calif., this summer.

Congratulating Robert Sherman Scholarship recipient Drew Nellessen (center) are Alice Gambel, creator of the Valparaiso Musical Theatre program, and BMI's Jean Banks, who supervises the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. 

The Valparaiso students also caught a performance of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, the multiple Tony Award-winning musical developed by lyricist Edward Kleban in the BMI Workshop.

During the session, Valparaiso alumnus and Millikin University senior Drew Nellessen was awarded the BMI Foundation's first Robert Sherman Scholarship, a new award endowed by the BMI composer of Mary Poppins (opening soon on Broadway). Nellessen, who participated in the high school's 2002 visit, is currently preparing to star as "Vinnie" in Millikin's production of Lucky Stiff, and has also performed in the university's productions of Sugar, The Secret Garden and Damn Yankees.

Deemed "the Harvard of musical theatre" by The New York Times, the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop was founded in 1961 by Lehman Engel, dean of American musical theatre, to create a setting where new writers could learn their craft. In addition to A Chorus Line, it is the birthplace of such celebrated musicals as Nine, Raisin, Little Shop of Horrors and Avenue Q, among others. An innovative program widely regarded as the foremost training ground for new writing voices, the BMI Workshop has been recognized with such prestigious awards as the 2006 Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre, the 2005-2006 Drama Desk Award, and the 2005 Drama League Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre. The Workshop is supervised by BMI's Jean Banks, Senior Director of Musical Theatre.

Photos by Dana Rodriguez


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