American musical theatre composer and lyricist Edward Kleban (b. Bronx, New York, 30 April 1939; d. New York, 28 December 1987) is best remembered as the lyricist for the record-breaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical A Chorus Line.
Ed Kleban grew up in New York, graduated from the High School of Music & Art, and got his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, where playwright Terrence McNally was among his classmates. He went to work as a producer for Columbia Records in the 1960s in Los Angeles and in New York, gaining experience with every kind of music from Igor Stravinsky to Percy Faith to the 1967 off-Broadway musical Now Is the Time for All Good Men.
It was in 1974 that Kleban began his collaboration with composer Marvin Hamlisch and director-choreographer Michael Bennett in the creation of A Chorus Line. The songs “I Hope I Get It,” “Nothing,” “What I Did For Love,” and “One” helped it become one of the longest-running shows and one of the most familiar musical theatre scores in Broadway history. Opening at the Shubert Theatre in October 1975, it played 6,137 performances – more than twelve years – in its original run (the 2006 revival added another two years to that), won the 1976 Tony Award® for Best Original Score, and received a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the fifth ever to be awarded to a musical.
Although Ed Kleban never again collaborated on an entire score for a show, he continued to write songs, some of which were featured in Phyllis Newman’s one-woman revue, The Madwoman of Central Park West, in 1979. His other theatrical projects included Gallery, an unstaged 1981 Public Theater production, and two new songs with Hamlisch for the film version of A Chorus Line. For many years he was a teacher at the BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Musical Theater Workshop, a series of seminars for lyricists, librettists, and composers associated with the music-licensing firm.
Kleban died at the age of 48 from complications of mouth cancer, but his influence on Broadway did not stop with his death. His will established a Foundation to grant annual awards (administered by BMI) to the most promising librettist and lyricist in American musical theatre, each in the amount of $100,000 over two years. It also granted the rights to his unpublished songs to his friends Avery Corman (author of Kramer vs. Kramer and of the book and lyrics of The Great Ostrovsky, a musical with composer Cy Coleman) and Wendy Wasserstein, with the request that they create a new musical out of those songs.
When the new musical failed to materialize, the rights reverted to Kleban’s longtime companion, librettist Linda Kline. Kline needed a collaborator who had never worked with Kleban, and chose Lonny Price. After six years of brainstorming and writing, both Price and Kline starred (she directed as well) in the musical biography of Kleban, A Class Act. After a two-month run at the Manhattan Theatre Club, it moved to the Ambassador Theatre in March 2001 and ran for three additional months. Edward Kleban, nearly fourteen years after his death, received a Tony® nomination for Best Original Score, also Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics.
”I remember talking to a friend the week before [A Chorus Line] opened,” Kleban said in 1983, at about the midpoint of the musical’s record-breaking run. ”I’d been paid $500 for my whole year’s work. I said I didn’t know if that would be it, or if I’d make a fortune.”
– Lucy E. Cross
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