Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre

Award Honors Most Promising Artists

By: - Mar 10, 2021

Melissa Li, Benjamin Scheuer, and Kit Yan are names to remember in musical theater.

Indeed, these individuals have each earned the 2021 Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre. The honor’s namesake is Edward L. Kleban. He is the late Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist of the musical A Chorus Line. Kleban’s will made provisions for the annual prizes.

People can become more familiar with the work of Li, Scheuer, and Yan when the theater community honors them during the 31st annual presentation of the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre. The free streaming event will take place at 7 p.m. EST on Monday, March 15. To stream the presentation at Broadway On Demand, visit For those unable to attend the streaming event on Broadway on Demand, visit starting at 10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, March 16.

Scheuer has received the Kleban Prize for most promising musical theater lyricist. Meanwhile, Li and Yan will take home most promising musical theater librettist honors.

Unlike other awards, the Kleban Prize does not recognize a specific work or works already completed. Rather, it acknowledges the excellence of past work – while anticipating work yet to come.

Since the award’s inception more than 30 years ago, judging panels comprised of respected theater artists and administrators have selected Kleban Prize winners. This year, the judges were actor Raul Esparza, librettist Mike Lew, as well as actor-director Seret Scott.

“Kleban Prize winners are the artists who are going to define the art form for years to come,” said Tony Award winner Richard Maltby Jr., the Kleban Foundation’s president. “We celebrate them, their fresh perspectives, and creative energy that will be so very important to the theater when it returns.”

Kleban recognized that “theatrical wordsmiths had the hardest time supporting themselves while honing their craft,” Maltby said. “And so, the Kleban awards are specifically for librettists and lyricists.”

The Kleban prize comes with $100,000 awards. Past winners have included Lisa Kron (Fun Home), Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak (A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder), David Lindsay-Abaire, (Shrek), and Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years).

Bios of the winners appear below.

  • BENJAMIN SCHEUER (2021 Kleban Prize winner, most promising musical theatre lyricist) wrote and performed The Lion. (Drama Desk Award, "Outstanding Solo Performance;" off-West-End Award, "Best New Musical.") After more than 500 performances, Scheuer gave his final performance of The Lion at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. The LA Times wrote that "the vibe of casual, unrehearsed immediacy masks the narrative complexity of a novel or an opera." His album Songs from The Lionwas released in 2016 (Warner/ADA), along with four music videos, which won prizes including "Best Commissioned Film" at the Annecy Film Festival, and two consecutive "Best Music Video" prizes at the British Animation Awards. In March 2020, Scheuer released the song "I Am Samantha," about a transgender friend of Scheuer's. The music-video features a cast of 27 people, all of whom are transgender. The track is the first release from a forthcoming album with Canvasback/Atlantic Records (US) & Parlophone (UK). Scheuer and world-renowned ballet dancer Carlos Acosta collaborated on a short film, "Empty Stage," accompanying Scheuer's eponymous song, recorded with Royal Ballet Sinfonia orchestra. The film features Scheuer, Acosta, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, where Acosta is Artistic Director.  Scheuer is the author of two songs-turned-into-children's-books: Hibernate With Me and Hundred Feet Tall, both illustrated by his wife, Jemima Williams. (Simon & Schuster.) Hibernate With Me has been translated into German, French, and Mandarin. Hundred Feet Tall will be published in Welsh in 2021 (Much to the pleasure of Jemima, who grew up on a Welsh sheep farm; Benjamin, Jemima and their young daughter quarantined there for three months in spring 2020.) With playwright Melis Aker, Scheuer is working on adapting Hundred Feet Tall into a musical for children. With Rick Elice (Jersey BoysPeter and the Star Catcher) he's writing a musical about Peter Roget, the fellow who wrote the eponymous Thesaurus. Scheuer lives with his family in London.
  • MELISSA LI (2021 Kleban Prize winner, most promising musical theatre librettists) is a composer, lyricist, book writer, and performer based in NYC and Baltimore. She is a recipient of the Jonathan Larson Award, a Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellow, a Lincoln Center Theater Writer-in-Residence, a 2019 Musical Theatre Factory Maker, a MacDowell Colony Fellow, a Company One Pao Arts Fellow, and a former Queer|Art|Mentorship Fellow. Musicals include Interstate(Mixed Blood Theatre, New York Musical Festival Winner "Outstanding Lyrics"), MISS STEPCancelled (Keen Company), May DaySurviving the Nian (The Theater Offensive, IRNE Award Winner for "Best New Play" 2007), and 99% Stone. Her works have received support from 5th Avenue Theatre, The Village Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Musical Theater Factory, Playwrights Horizons, Keen Company, Weston Playhouse, NewYorkRep, Company One Theatre, National Performance Network, and New England Foundation for the Arts, among others.
  • KIT YAN (2021 Kleban Prize winner, most promising musical theatre librettists) is a queer and transgender Yellow American creator, based in New York, born in Enping, China, and raised in the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kit is a 2019 Bret Adams and Paul Reisch Vivace award winner, and has been a fellow at the Dramatists Guild Foundation, MacDowell, Playwright's Center, Company One/Pao Arts, and the Musical Theater Factory. Their work has been developed/produced/commissioned by 5th Avenue Theater, Keen Company, Playwrights Horizons, American Repertory Theater, Mixed Blood, Diversionary, The Smithsonian, OSF, San Diego Repertory Theater, The Artists' Theater of Boston, and the New York Repertory Theater. Yan's recent works include Interstate (NAMT 2019, 2018 NYMF best lyrics) and MISS STEP two new transgender musicals.