Michael Korie

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Michael Korie (born Michael Cory Indick) is an American librettist and lyricist, whose works include the musicals Grey Gardens and Far From Heaven, and the operas Harvey Milk'' and The Grapes of Wrath. His work has been staged on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and internationally, and has been nominated for awards including the Tony and the Outer Critics Circle Award. He is a guest lecturer at Yale University.

Michael Korie
Michael Korie Photo by Dan Nicoletta.jpg


Korie was born April 1, 1955 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the son of Benjamin and Janet Indick. His father, a pharmacist, also published scholarly essays on H.P Lovecraft and Stephen King. His mother is a sculptor and President Emeritus of the National Association of Women Artists.

After graduating from Teaneck High School in 1972, Korie studied music at Brandeis University before transferring to the journalism department of New York University. After college, he free-lanced for The Village Voice and later became editor of a free Manhattan weekly called Wisdom’s Child New York Guide, which covered neighborhood arts and politics. In the early 1980’s Korie was accepted to the BMI Musical Theater workshop as a composer-lyricist under the mentorship of Lehman Engel.

Operas and Musicals[edit]

Where's Dick?[edit]

The first work of Korie’s to receive major attention was a vaudeville opera called Where’s Dick?, composed by Stewart Wallace and developed at Playwrights Horizons. It premiered at the Miller Outdoor Theater in 1989 in a controversial production mounted by the Houston Grand Opera directed by director Richard Foreman. Writing in The New York Times, critic Bernard Holland called it “the type of musical stage work…we ought to be pursuing”. The Village Voice’s Leighton Kerner described it as “a grisly comic indictment, both grotesque and sublime”.[1]


Korie’s next collaboration with Wallace was a “dance opera” called Kabbalah, conceived in seven sections or “gates”, according to Kabbalistic philosophy, and performed entirely in the languages of the diaspora. To prepare the libretto, Korie studied at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary and at the NYU Middle Eastern Studies Department. In addition, while in residence among Kabbalistic communities in Jerusalem, he conducted interviews with rabbinical experts in the Jewish oral tradition. Recordings of these interviews were mixed into live performances during the work’s 1989 premiere, which was co-produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival and Dance Theater Workshop and directed and choreographed by Ann Carlson. John Rockwell in The New York Times called the original production, which premiered on November 26, 1989, “a production well worth seeing and a joint career well worth following. Kabbalah may prove ultimately more important for what it promises than for what it provides. But even what it provides has its real merits."[2]

Harvey Milk[edit]

His next work with Wallace, the opera Harvey Milk, was conceived as an epic opera in three acts, and commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, New York City Opera and San Francisco Opera. It recounts the life of the slain politician and gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. The first act (“The Closet”) represents Milk’s early years as a closeted stock broker in New York, his arrest in central park, and decision to depart for San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith. The second act (“The Castro”) charts Milk’s transformation from a San Francisco camera store owner to an elected City Supervisor. The Third Act (“City Hall”) dramatizes his hardball-style politicking and head-butting with his assassin, fellow Supervisor Dan White. Milk’s premonition of his death is shown in the aria “If a Bullet Should Enter My Brain...”, as he makes a tape recording of his last will just weeks before his murder by White.

The opera’s premiere on January 21, 1995 at the Houston Grand Opera generated controversy over the first presentation of openly gay love scenes on the operatic stage. The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the best new operas in years” and The Independent’s Edward Seckerson wrote “the libretto is among the sharpest in contemporary opera”.[3]

The largely positive reception of the opera’s premiere was reversed in its next production the following year at New York’s City Opera, but found success in its 1997 hometown production at San Francisco Opera, for which Korie and Wallace revisited both the libretto and the score at the suggestion of SFO general director Lotfi Mansouri. Joshua Kosman in The San Francisco Chronicle called it, “By turns haunting and hilarious, brassy and mystically poetic, the libretto is a magnificent creation”.[4] A special performance of the work was staged on the anniversary of Milk’s assassination. Director Christopher Alden restaged scenes to include some of the actual politicians and gay activists who had worked alongside Milk. The opera was recorded by Teldec in 1998, with Donald Runnicles conducting.

A subsequent concert version was later presented in London as part of the Maida Vale Concerts series, performed by the BBC Symphony, and in February 2015, a new semi-staged concert version in Melbourne Australia, directed by Cameron Lukie.

Hopper's Wife[edit]

A 90-minute opera called Hopper’s Wife came next for Wallace and Korie. The opera imagines Josephine Hopper, wife of painter Edward Hopper, transformed into the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Writing of its premiere at Long Beach Opera Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed in The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Korie offers exciting images and horribly crude ones side by side; clever rhymes intentionally confuse smut with art. Brave, bold and important”.[5]

Art News said that the production “made a case for opera as a genuinely adult art form able to confront and decry the current “dumbed-down” state of American culture”.[6]


Turning to musical theater, Korie began a fruitful collaboration with Scott Frankel. Their first work, Doll, dramatized painter Oscar Kokoschka’s fetishistic love for a life-sized, functioning doll modeled after Gustav Mahler’s widow Alma Mahler. Doll received the Richard Rogers production award, and was staged by Lonnie Price at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, with a cast featuring Michael Cerveris and David Hyde Pierce.

Grey Gardens[edit]

But Doll and another musical developed with Frankel entitled Meet Mr. Future, performed at the Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre in 2005, were put aside for their best-known musical, Grey Gardens, based on the Albert and David Maysles documentary of the same name. With book by Pulitzer Prize-playwright Doug Wright, Grey Gardens expanded upon the period documented in the film—Little Edie and Big Edie Beale living in a crumbling and decrepit mansion in East Hampton—by adding a hypothesized first act which imagined the engagement reception of Little Edie and Joseph Kennedy, Jr., held at the mansion in its heyday thirty years before. Of the approach to making a musical out of a documentary, Korie was quoted as saying, “unlike in a movie, in the theater there are no close-ups. Music and lyrics provide an actor with the equivalent of a close-up on the screen, a defining gesture that stops time and glimpses momentarily into the soul.”[7]

Mary Louise Wilson and Christine Ebersole in Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens opened on February 10, 2006 at Playwrights Horizons with direction by Michael Greif and a cast featuring Christine Ebersole, Mary Louise Wilson, and John McMartin, later transferring to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theater. The musical won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical, was nominated for ten Tony Awards (including Best Musical), and was listed as Time Magazine’s #1 New Show of the Year for 2006-2007. The work was also selected for inclusion in The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, 2006-2007. In his essay, Michael Feingold of Korie’s libretto: “couched in a diction that shifts recklessly from high to low and past to present…Grey Gardens’s lyrics convey an eccentric sensibility wholly their own, mirroring the two heroines’ eccentricity.”[8] The musical was listed as one of the best musicals of all time in Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik’s Broadway Musicals: the 101 Greatest Shows of All Time.[9] Since it’s premiere, Grey Gardens has received numerous productions both in the U.S. and abroad in Japan, Brazil, and Australia. In the summer of 2015, the work will make both its official UK premiere at London’s Southwark Playhouse and its East Hampton Premiere at the Bay Street Theater, directed by Michael Wilson. The original Broadway cast recording was released by PS Classics in 2007. Recently, The New York Times cited the song “Another Winter in a Summer Town” as a new classic that should be included in the standard American musical theater repertoire.[10]

The Grapes of Wrath[edit]

Production still from The Grapes of Wrath at the Pittsburgh Opera

His next libretto was an operatic version of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with a score by Ricky Ian Gordon. Korie and Gordon are quoted as wishing to create a highly-melodic “American tapestry of song” with roots in the populist and American musical theater traditions.[11] The style of the piece is closer to that of the works of Kurt Weill or Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess than the durchkomponiert operatic style prevailing in most contemporary opera. Grapes of Wrath opened February 10, 2007 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, to highly favorable notices. Writing for The New Yorker, Alex Ross praised Korie for the libretto’s “teeth”, marveling that he “found ways to leave [the novel’s] rage in tact even as he gives lyric voice to the suffering Joad clan”, and The Los Angeles Times praised the “strong, literate libretto” for finding “the timeless and timely essence of Steinbeck’s epic”.[12] It was subsequently produced at Utah Opera and Pittsburgh Opera.

Grapes of Wrath was given in a concert version at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium on March 23, 2004, with Ted Sperling conducting the American Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Clarke, Christine Ebersole, Elizabeth Futral and Nathan Gunn in the lead roles, and Jane Fonda (whose father Henry Fonda played Tom Joad in the 1940 film adaptation of the novel) narrating.


Korie and Frankel’s next score was for a musical called Happiness, with a book by John Weidman and direction and choreography by Susan Stroman. Happiness premiered at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater on February 27, 2009. Its metaphysical premise of passengers on a New York City subway car trapped in purgatory was widely dismissed by critics. The New York Times chief theater critic Ben Brantley wrote: “Unfortunately, everything here seems to have been unpacked from a suitcase in the attic”. He was equally unfavorable to the score, which featured “loud but misty ballads in which people hold notes for a long time”.[13] The one positive notice was by John Simon for Bloomberg.com, who called the work “110 minutes of flawless, nonstop entertainment”.[14] The work has received no subsequent productions.

Far From Heaven[edit]

Stephen Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara in Far From Heaven

Korie and Frankel’s next score was Far From Heaven, a musical based on the Todd Haynes film and adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Richard Greenberg. Following a preview engagement at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Summer 2012, it was produced the following spring in New York at Playwrights Horizons. Critical opinion ranged from positive to mixed. In his essay for the P.S. Classics original cast recording, New York Magazine theater critic Jesse Green wrote “It would surely win any contest for the number of evils it considers: racism, the oppression of women, the hatred (and self-hatred) of homosexuals…The singular achievement of Far From Heaven is to have turned so much seriousness—so much fury and pain—into so much songwriting beauty”.[15]

Honors and Awards[edit]

  • Lyrics featured in a documentary Grey Gardens: From East Hampton to Broadway, by Albert Maysles, about making of the musical Grey Gardens screened at Hamptons International Film Festival and later broadcast on PBS.
  • Ten Antoinette Perry Award Nominations for Grey Gardens, including Best Musical
  • TIME Magazine #1 New Show of the Year 2007 (Grey Gardens)
  • Medal for Theatre, National Academy of Arts & Letters (2007)
  • Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical for Grey Gardens (2006)
  • ASCAP Foundation, Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, Richard Rodgers Production Award for Grey Gardens (2006)
  • Jonathan Larson Award (2002)
  • Edward Kleban Award (2000)
  • San Francisco Mayoral Commendation (1997)
  • Richard Rodgers Award (1994)
  • Commissions and Fellowships: Opera America Commissions; Wallace Fund; Meet-the Composer Fellowships; Cary Trust Commission; National Endowment Fellowships; NY Foundation for the Arts Fellowship; Fellow, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center (1987-present)

Selected List of Productions[edit]

  • Grey Gardens: Walter Kerr Theater (Broadway) 2006, dir. Michael Greif; Playwrights Horizons, 2004, dir. Michael Greif
  • Doctor Zhivago: Broadway Theater (Broadway), 2015, dir. Des McAnuff; La Jolla Playhouse, Main Stage Production, 2006, dir. Des McAnuff
  • Doll: Ravinia Festival, 2003, dir Lonni Price
  • Meet Mister Future: Cardiff Festival, Wales, Winner of the Global Search for New Musicals, 2005, dir. Christopher Ashley
  • The Grapes of Wrath: Minnesota Opera (Revival), 2010, Eric Simonson; Houston Grand Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Opera Pacific, 2008; Minnesota Opera, Utah Symphony & Opera, 2007
  • Harvey Milk: San Francisco Opera, 1998, dir. by Christopher Alden; New York City Opera, Dortmund Opera (Germany), 1997; Houston Grand Opera, 1996-7
  • Hopper’s Wife: Long Beach Opera, (CA), 1999, dir. Christopher Alden
  • Where’s Dick?: Houston Grand Opera, 1989, dir. Richard Foreman; Opera Omaha, 1988, dir. Anne Bogart
  • Kabbalah: Three Rivers Festival, Pittsburgh & DiverseWorks, Houston, 1990, dir. Rhoda Levine; Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1989

Publications and Recordings[edit]

  • Grey Gardens (Libretto and Lyrics), Applause Books, August 2007.
  • Grey Gardens (Folio & Score), Williamson Music, July 2007.
  • Grey Gardens: Original Broadway Cast Recording, PS Classics, 2007.
  • Grey Gardens: Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording, PS Classics, 2006.
  • The Grapes of Wrath, Minnesota Opera Original Cast Recording (2008).
  • The Grapes of Wrath (Libretto and Score), Carl Fischer/Theodore Presser Publications, 2009.
  • The Grapes of Wrath Solo Aria Collection - 16 Aria Excerpts from the Opera The Grapes of Wrath', Carl Fischer/Theodore Presser Publications, 2010.
  • Harvey Milk, San Francisco Opera & Symphony, Cond.: Donald Runnicles, Teldec Classics/Warner, 2000.
  • Gay Century Songbook Carnegie Hall Premiere, NYCGM Chorus & Orchestra, DRG Label, 2002
  • Kabbalah, Cond.: Michael Barrett, Koch Classics, 1990.
  • Far From Heaven: Original Broadway Cast Recording, PS Classics, 2013.
  • Far From Heaven (Score), Imagen/Rogers and Hammerstein, 2015.

Further Reading[edit]

Feingold, Michael. “Grey Gardens”. The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, 2005-2006. Jenkins, Jeffrey Eric ed. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2007.

Clum, John M. Something for the Boys: Musical Theater and Gay Culture. London: St.Martin’s Press, 2001.


  1. ^ Holland, Bernard. “Seeking a Phantom Dick Tracy”. The New York Times. 4 June, 1989.
  2. ^ Rockwell, John. "Kabbalah". New-Music Festival; 10 Souls Act Out the Mysticism of 'Kabbalah'. The New York Times. 20 Novemver, 2989. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/20/arts/new-music-festival-10-souls-act-out-the-mysticism-of-kabbalah.html
  3. ^ Rothstein, Edward. “Opera Review: ‘Harvey Milk’”. The New York Time. 23 January, 1995. von Rhein, John. “`Harvey Milk' Premieres With Timely Tribute To Gay Martyr”. The Chicago Tribune. 23 January, 1995. Seckerson, Edward. “Long Live the King”. The Independent. 30 January, 1995.
  4. ^ Golden, Tim. A Gay Camelot Comes Home to Find It’s True”. The New York Times. 30 November, 1996.
  5. ^ Swed, Mark. “’Hopper's Wife': Not for the Faint of Art”. The Los Angeles Times. 16 June, 1997.
  6. ^ Feingold, Michael. “Grey Gardens”. The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2005-2006. ed. Jeffrey Eric Jenkins. New York: Limelight Editions, 2007. p. 49.
  7. ^ Interview. Playwrights Horizons. http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/trailers/tim-sanford-and-scott-frankel-richard-greenberg-and-michael-korie. Accessed 27 February, 2015.
  8. ^ Feingold, Michael. “Grey Gardens”. The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2005-2006. ed. Jeffrey Eric Jenkins. New York: Limelight Editions, 2007. p. 49.
  9. ^ Bloom, Ken and Vlastnik, Frank. Broadway Musicals: the 101 Greatest Shows of All Time. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2004.
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen. “Setting New Standards: American Songbook Reshapes the Canon”. The New York Times. Jan 22, 2015.
  12. ^ Ross, Alex. “Agit Opera”. The New Yorker. March 5, 2007. Swed, Mark. “Grapes Ripe With Essence of Steinbeck“. The Los Angeles Times. February 17, 2007.
  13. ^ Brantley, Ben. “Accidental Tourists, on a Train to Eternity”. The New York Times. 30 March, 2009.
  14. ^ Simon, John. “Mysterious Subway Brings Strangers to Eternal Bliss”. Bloomberg. 30 March, 2009. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a0ZxI.nOJMfc>. Accessed 29 February, 2015.
  15. ^ Jesse Green. “The Only One”. Oct. 2, 2013 [Liner Notes] in Far From Heaven. New York: PS Classics.

External links[edit]