NEW YORK, February 20, 2019 — The winners of the 2019 Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater were announced today by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Bhangin’ It by Mike Lew, Rehana Lew Mirza, and Sam Willmott
The Lucky Ones by Abigail and Shaun Bengson and Sarah Gancher
Each musical received a Studio Production Award.
Bhangin’ It, drawn from the high-stakes world of intercollegiate bhangra (Indian folk dance) competitions, tells the story of a biracial (half-Indian) girl named Mary who gets kicked off her bhangra team for not being “Indian enough,” so she grabs her best friend Sunita and forms a rag-tag multicultural team of her own.
The Lucky Ones spins a memory-tale of teenaged passion, ideals lived to the limits, family shattered, and faith lost—all in hope of finding a way home again. Through soulful electro-folk songs, this driving, semi-autobiographical story grabs joy and grief with the same hand and holds them tightly, in a radical affirmation of being alive.
Richard Rodgers, who was elected to the Academy in 1955, endowed these awards in 1978 to nurture talented composers and playwrights by enabling their musicals to be produced in New York City. Former award recipients include Maury Yeston, for Nine; Jonathan Larson, for Rent; Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal for Juan Darien; Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty for Lucky Stiff; Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley for Violet; Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, and Doug Wright for Grey Gardens; and Dave Malloy for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. The Richard Rodgers Awards are the Academy’s only awards for which applications are accepted. Application forms may be found at the academy’s website at www.artsandletters.org.
The members of this year’s jury were David Lang (chairman), Mindi Dickstein, Amanda Green, Richard Maltby, Jr., and John Weidman.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 250 members are elected for life and pay no dues.
In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, and purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country.
Mike Lew (book) is a Dramatists Guild Council member, Tony voter, and New Dramatists resident. His plays include Teenage Dick (Ma-Yi at the Public, Artists Rep); Tiger Style! (Olney, Huntington, La Jolla Playhouse, Alliance); Bike America (Ma-Yi, Alliance); and microcrisis (Ma-Yi, InterAct, Next Act). He and Rehana Lew Mirza co-wrote the book to Bhangin’ It (composer/lyricist Sam Willmott; La Jolla Playhouse, Project Springboard, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat workshops), and jointly hold a Mellon residency at Ma-Yi, La Jolla Playhouse Artists-in-Residence, and also a kid. Honors: Lark Venturous and NYFA fellowships; PEN, Lanford Wilson, Helen Merrill, Heideman, and Kendeda awards. Education: Juilliard, Yale.
REHANA LEW MIRZA
Rehana Lew Mirza (book) co-wrote, with her husband Mike Lew, the book to Bhangin’ It (composer/lyricist Sam Willmott; La Jolla Playhouse, Project Springboard, Rhinebeck Writers Retreat workshops), and they jointly hold a Mellon residency at Ma-Yi, La Jolla Playhouse Artists-in-Residence. Her plays include: Hatefuck (WP/Colt Coeur/Abingdon); Soldier X (Ma-Yi); A People’s Guide to History in the Time of Here and Now (workshops: AADA; Tisch, Primary Stages commission); and Barriers (Desipina, Asian American Theater Company.) Additional honors: Commissions with HuffPost/Storyworks; NNPN; NYSCA/Lark; EST Sloan; HBO Access Fellow, Lilly Award (Stacey Mindich “Go Write A Play”), and TCG Fellow. MFA: Columbia University; BFA: Tisch.
Sam Willmott (music and lyrics) has received the Kleban, Ebb, Larson, Wallowitch, Kennedy Center ACTF Musical Theater, and ASCAP Foundation Cole Porter and Harold Adamson awards. His shows include Bhangin’ It with Mike Lew and Rehana Lew Mirza, Yo, Vikings! with Marcus Stevens (featured in HBO’s Song of Parkland, for which he also served as Musical Consultant), Standardized Testing—The Musical!!!!, additional lyrics for Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, and the mini-musical Scarlet Takes a Tumble. Sam has taught at Harvard, Pace, Lincoln Center, and written over 150 songs for Korean English language training program English Egg. For more, visit SamWillmott.com.
The Lucky Ones
The Bengsons (book, music, & lyrics) have appeared at such venues as Joe’s Pub (NYC), MASS MoCA (North Adams, MA), and the Market Theater (Johannesburg, South Africa). Their music has been featured on “So You Think You Can Dance” (FOX), and in Hundred Days (La Jolla Playhouse, New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theater, Know Theater, Z Space, US Tour), The Lucky Ones (Ars Nova), Sundown, Yellow Moon (Ars Nova/WP), Anything That Gives Off Light (Edinburgh Theatre Festival, US Tour), Hurricane Diane (New York Theatre Workshop, Two River Theatre), You’ll Still Call Me By Name (New York Live Arts, Jacob’s Pillow), The Place We Built (The Flea), and Iphigenia in Aulis (Classic Stage Company). They have been nominated for the Drama Desk, Drama League, and Lucille Lortel awards. Abigail Nessen Bengson has toured as a member of tUnE-yArDs, including an appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Sarah Gancher (book) frequently partners with musicians including The Bengsons (The Lucky Ones at Ars Nova, Hundred Days at The Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, La Jolla Playhouse, Tampa’s Straz Center) and devising ensembles including NYC’s The TEAM (Mission Drift at London’s National Theatre, Edinburgh’s Traverse, PS 122 in New York, plus Salzburg, Lisbon, Coimbra, Hong Kong, and Perth.) Her plays include The Hole (2018 NYSF Reading Festival), I’ll Get You Back Again (Round House Theatre, developed at Seattle Rep and Steppenwolf), Seder (Hartford Stage, Edgerton Foundation New Play Award), and The Place We Built (The Flea, A.R. Gurney Prize). Honors include the New York Stage and Film Founder’s Award and several Drama League and Lortel nominations. Alumna: Women’s Project Lab, Playwrights’ Realm Writing Fellows, P73, Ars Nova Play Group. She is a new resident at New Dramatists. MFA: NYU.