For journalists, it's the Pulitzer Prize. College football players strive to win the Heisman Trophy. And for emerging lyricists in the musical theater, the most coveted recognition is the Kleban Prize, in part -- but only in part -- because $100,000 comes with it.
The winner of the Kleban for 2013 is Daniel Mate, who wrote the lyrics and music for a new song cycle, "The Longing and the Short of It," which opens tonight at The Arts Garage in Delray Beach.
"I knew it was a game changer," Mate says of the award. "When I got that call, I knew I was going to make a career out of this. I'm 38 years old, no longer interested in living totally hand to mouth." The award was "a real vote of confidence."
Arts Garage producing director Louis Tyrrell is so high on Mate's work that he has scheduled two of his shows this season. In April, Tyrrell will mount "The Trouble with Doug," a contemporary musical take on Kafka's "Metamorphosis," with lyrics by Mate and music by Will Aronson.
"I think this guy's storytelling in lyric is as good as it gets," says Tyrrell about Mate. "I think he's the next Jonathan Larson or even Stephen Sondheim. I think this song cycle is going to go on, hopefully, to play in front of audiences all around the country. And internationally. Daniel is the real deal."
"The Longing and the Short of It" revolves around characters in search of love and connections, what one number calls wanting to feel "Something Like OK."
Explaining how the show came about, Mate says "at a certain time I found myself writing a lot of songs for characters going to great lengths trying to get what they want and making asses of themselves, while being very charming and lovable and neurotic in the ways they go about it."
Naturally, that brings up the question of how autobiographical these songs are. "These characters all have parts of me in them," Mate concedes. Still, he adds, "One song is 'I Don't Think of You,' and it's a woman in an art gallery, running into an ex. Well, I'm not a woman, and I've never run into an ex at an art gallery. So I don't know where that came from. I was just playing this piano riff and I started singing along to it. It started coming out in these short bursts of awkward small talk. And from there, I heard a character.
"I lean towards the humorous side, and musical theater gives me a fantastic opportunity to get some distance from myself," he says. "To create characters who are reflections of me, but who aren't me."
"The Longing and the Short of It" has gone through developmental workshops held by two of his mentors, composer-lyricists William Finn and Stephen Schwartz. After the Arts Garage production, Mate is pretty sure the show will be close to finished.
"What Arts Garage has to offer production-wise is in some ways kind of bare bones, but that's perfect for this show. It doesn't need bells and whistles. We just need to get to the essence of what these songs are," he says. "I'm confident and hopeful that when we leave here my song cycle will be ready to be seen by a much wider public."
The D in the title is not a grade ... Orlando-based Jeanie Linders took to heart the adage "Write what you know," and it has made her rich. After going through the so-called "change of life," she wrote "Menopause the Musical."
For a follow-up, she has written "The D Word, A Musical," now playing at the Kravis Center's Rinker Playhouse through Dec. 8. What does the title stand for? "Ditched, dumped, divorced and dating," reels off Linders. "I've been there for all of those Ds."
True, she has already made enough money that she never needed to pen another word. Nevertheless, as Linders asks, "Why would I write another show after the success of 'Menopause'? Because that's what a writer does."
Before she wrote shows, Linders was a marketing executive and she feels that is her prime talent. "I am very good at writing target market shows. Shows that are me talking to my girl friends, that's basically what they are."
Theaters that shared the wealth generated by "Menopause" are clamoring to book "The D Word," but Linders cautions that it has its own distinct vibe. Besides, she says, "You know, you're only as good as your next show."
THE LONGING AND THE SHORT OF IT, The Theatre at Arts Garage, 180 NE First St., Delray Beach. Tonight through Nov. 24. Tickets: $30- $45. Call: 561-450-6357.
THE D WORD, A MUSICAL, Kravis Center Rinker Playhouse, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Sun., Dec. 8. Tickets: $39 - $64. Call: 561-832-7469.
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