9 Musical Theatre Writers You Should Know

Bassist/vocalist Kate Kilbane’s work focuses on the musicians—who are also the actors—and the music they play is catchy, ecstatic rock. But the Kilbanes, her Oakland-based band, are mesmerizing mainly because Kilbane capitalizes on the theatricality of the live concert form and the performative joy of virtuoso musicians at play. Never abandoning their instruments (they narrate and converse as they play between-song fills), the Kilbanes maintain their rock-star cool while staying in character. Writing with her husband, bandmate Dan Moses, Kilbane adapts myths—like that of Procne and Philomela in Weightless or Medea in The Medea Cycle—because she’s interested in worlds where fantastical transformations, like a woman turning into a bird, are natural, even expected. In Eddie the Marvelous, Who Will Save the World, her next show, now in development at Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, she delves into a living myth: David Bowie. —Lily Janiak

Bay Area native Min Kahng is drawn to writing musicals for children—he has long worked with Bay Area Children’s Theatre—in part because of his contagiously idealistic nature. In musicals like The Song of the Nightingale,characters make sweeping inward changes to become better people. But he credits his success, particularly with this year’s acclaimed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon—an adaptation of Grace Lin’s children’s book that featured an all-Asian cast and artists, including one who played the erhu, the familiar Chinese two-string fiddle—to the same dramaturgical tools one might use in a show for adults: the rigorous defining and paring of story arcs, and richly developed characters who earn the right to break into song. Next, he’ll aim for an older audience: The Four Immigrants Manga, in development at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, comes from an early 20th-century graphic novel that, through unsentimental portraiture, broadens the term “immigrant.” —Janiak

Northwestern University alums Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler have earned admiration for their early work together—including the Aesop’s fables–inspired kids’ musical How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?, first seen at Chicago Shakespeare Theaterand apart. Schmuckler’s other CST-premiered young-audience show, The Emperor’s New Clothes, was recently acquired for licensing by Rodgers & Hammerstein, and he paired with bookwriter Laura Eason for a Charles Mee–based modern romance titled Days Like Today, which debuted in May at Writers Theatre on Chicago’s North Shore. Meanwhile, Mahler’s superhero-themed musical Hero, first produced at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Ill., recently had a subsequent production at Florida’s Asolo Rep; he’s also penning a new rock-and-roll take on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books with director Rachel Rockwell for a 2015 bow at Chicago Children’s Theatre. —Kris Vire

With the unconventional sex appeal of doppelganger Nick Cave, the swagger of Tom Waits and the chops of Duke Ellington, Austin composer/bandleader Graham Reynolds redefines the triple threat. As a musician, Reynolds has an enviable résumé, most recently scoring Richard Linklater’s film Before Midnight, yet it’s his constant involvement in theatre that really sets Reynolds apart from his peers in a city that markets itself as a music capital. A frequent collaborator with award-winning rabble-rousers the Rude Mechs, he traveled with them to New York’s Lincoln Center earlier this year to work on Stop Hitting Yourself. At press time, Reynolds is busy developing a Pancho Villa chamber opera with the Mechs’s Shawn Sides and West Texas’s cultural arts space Ballroom Marfa. And this month marks his return from Minneapolis, where he’s been feverishly working with Sibyl Kempson on Maery S., a follow-up project to From the Pigpile: The Requisite Gesture(s) of Narrow Approach. —Stacy Alexander Smith

Composer and bass player Jherek Bischoff has been riding a rocket for the past two years, from the avant-rock world to composing for the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall to theatre-specific music experiments in Seattle (the Northwest New Works festival at On the Boards) and Vienna (he’s composing for a world-premiere play at Schauspielhaus in November). This boost came after he released Composed, a collection of short, lush compositions, in 2012. (Nobody was more surprised than Bischoff when David Byrne agreed to sing on one track.) Bischoff’s scores sound like fizzy pop impulses interpolated through a chamber orchestra. But they also have dark, angular edges beneath their gossamer surfaces, sharpened by his work in Seattle’s performance scene, notably with Degenerate Art Ensemble, whose dance spectacles vary in tone from thrash metal to Butoh. Now this well-known and loved Seattle treasure is introducing his gifts to the world. —Brendan Kiley

Longtime collaborators and life partners Michael Biello and Dan Martin are fierce advocates for self-acceptance, tolerance and love. Their work synthesizes soaring contemporary melodies with quirky humor and buoyant fantasy: from Breathe, a cycle of fairy tales celebrating the LGBTQ community, to Marry Harry, a romantic comedy about a heterosexual couple finding love on their own terms. Their style, which emerged from years of performance art and dance-theatre collaborations, is suffused with irrepressible heart and with personal candor. “When we first wrote Breathe,” the duo explains, “we conjured tales from our lives and imaginations: families healing from losing loved ones to AIDS, characters visioning a future with gay marriage and adoption, friends growing old together with dignity.” Up next for the affable pair: development and production of In My Body, a concept musical about body image, and First Comes Love, based on Barbara Proud’s upcoming book of portraits and stories of enduring LGBTQ relationships. —Krista Apple-Hodge

Composer, lyricist and book writer Jeanette Hopkins doesn’t have a large body of musical theatre work, in part because she stays busy as a vocal and acting teacher, performer and songwriter for film and television. Her major musical to date is Bombshells!, which had its premiere at Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables in 2009. That show’s director, David Arisco, says, “Her music is very tonal and pretty. She knows how to write that pop hook.” Hopkins is reworking Bombshells!, a show about women spilling resonant secrets, planning to rechristen it The Real Housewives of Anywhere U.S.A. She’s also working on Phobias: A Love Story (about a germophobic guy, a gal with commitment issues and their therapist), and she’s hoping to turn Lincoln Tunnel (about an angel showing Abraham Lincoln how his legacy has played out) into a movie musical. —Christine Dolen