Michael Korie 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 theatre, Off-Broadway, and internationally, and has been nominated for awards including the Tony Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. He teaches musical theater lyric writing at Yale University, and serves on the council of the Dramatists Guild, where he mentors the Musical Theater Fellows program for emerging lyricists and composers.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Operas and Musicals
- 3 Teaching
- 4 Honors and awards
- 5 Selected List of Productions
- 6 Publications and Recordings
- 7 Further reading
- 8 References
- 9 External links
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
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 production mounted by the Houston Grand Opera and directed by 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".
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."
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 his 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 premiered on January 21, 1995 at the Houston Grand Opera  and 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".
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 the piece 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 wrote of the SFO production, “By turns haunting and hilarious, brassy and mystically poetic, the libretto is a magnificent creation”. 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 was presented in Melbourne, Australia, directed by Cameron Lukie, and will be repeated at Sydney's Town Hall in November, 2016.
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. Of its premiere at Long Beach Opera in 1997, music critic Mark Swed wrote in The Los Angeles Times, "Korie offers exciting images and horribly crude ones side by side; clever rhymes intentionally confuse smut with art. Brave, bold and important". 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".
Turning to musical theater, Korie began a fruitful collaboration with composer 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 Development Award in 1994. The musical received a staged reading directed by Lonny Price at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival in September 2003, with a cast featuring Michael Cerveris and David Hyde Pierce.
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-winning 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.”
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 at the Walter Kerr Theatre. 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 characterized Korie’s libretto as "...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." The musical was featured in Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik’s "Broadway Musicals: the 101 Greatest Shows of All Time". Since its 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 made its East Hampton Premiere at the Bay Street Theater, directed by Michael Wilson. In 2016, it will make its official UK premiere at London’s Southwark Playhouse, starring Olivier award-winning actresses Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell. Recently, The New York Times cited the song Another Winter in a Summer Town as one that should be included in the standard American musical theater repertoire. The original Broadway cast recording was released by PS Classics in 2007.
The Grapes of Wrath
Korie's next opera libretto was an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with a score by Ricky Ian Gordon. 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. Minnesota Opera's production of 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 intact 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”. It was subsequently produced at Utah Opera and Pittsburgh Opera.
Grapes of Wrath was performed in a concert version at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium on March 22, 2010, 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 the musical Happiness, with a book by John Weidman and direction and choreography by Susan Stroman. Happiness premiered Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater on February 27, 2009. This musical was commissioned by the Lincoln Center Theater.
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". The one positive notice was by John Simon for Bloomberg.com, who called the work "110 minutes of flawless, nonstop entertainment".
Far From Heaven
Far From Heaven was the team's next score, a musical based on the Todd Haynes film and adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Richard Greenberg. The musical had a preview engagement at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2012. It was produced Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons from May 8, 2013 to July 7, 2013, starring Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale.
In his review in The New York Times, Ben Brantley called it a "prosy musical", while Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal deemed it "vastly superior to the film on which it is based". 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”.
A new production of the musical, directed by Rob Lindley, will open in February 2015 at Chicago's Porchlight Theater.
Korie co-wrote lyrics with Amy Powers to the stage musical Doctor Zhivago, with music by Lucy Simon, book by playwright Michael Weller (based on Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize-winning novel), and direction by Des McAnuff. The work’s lengthy development began at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2006. A rewritten and reconceived production opened in Sydney, Australia in 2011, where it was successfully received and subsequently toured to Melbourne and Korea. The show opened on Broadway in April 2015 at the Broadway Theatre, once again directed by McAnuff and starring Tam Mutu in the title role. It closed after 26 previews and 23 regular performances. A cast recording was released by Broadway Records.
Honors and awards
- 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.
- Grey Gardens: Ten Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical; Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Musical; and ASCAP Foundation, Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, Richard Rodgers Production Award
- TIME Magazine #1 New Show of the Year 2007 (Grey Gardens)
- Medal for Theatre, National Academy of Arts & Letters (2007)
- 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
- Grey Gardens: Walter Kerr Theatre (Broadway) 2006, dir. Michael Greif; Playwrights Horizons, 2004, dir. Michael Greif
- Doctor Zhivago: Broadway Theatre (Broadway), 2015, dir. Des McAnuff; La Jolla Playhouse, Main Stage Production, 2006, dir. Des McAnuff
- Doll: Ravinia Festival, 2003, dir Lonny 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
- Gay Century Songbook: Carnegie Hall, New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, 2000.
- Where’s Dick?: Houston Grand Opera, 1989, dir. Richard Foreman; Opera Omaha, 1988, dir. Anne Bogart
- Positions 1956: LaMama NYC, 1987; The Knitting Factory, 1988; Urban Arias, Washington, D.C., 2012.
- Kabbalah: Three Rivers Festival, Pittsburgh & DiverseWorks, Houston, 1990, dir. Rhoda Levine; Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1989
Publications and Recordings
- 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.
- 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.
- " 'Where's Dick?' Listing" operaamerica.org, accessed April 26, 2015
- Holland, Bernard. "Seeking a Phantom Dick Tracy". The New York Times. June 4, 1989.
- Kanny, Mark. " 'Kabbalah' Promising" news.google.com, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 11, 1990
- Rockwell, John. "Kabbalah". New-Music Festival; 10 Souls Act Out the Mysticism of 'Kabbalah' The New York Times, November 20, 1989
- " 'Harvey Milk' Listing" operaamerica.org, accessed April 26, 2015
- Rothstein, Edward. "Opera Review: ‘Harvey Milk’", The New York Times, January 23, 1995.
- von Rhein, John. " 'Harvey Milk' Premieres With Timely Tribute To Gay Martyr", The Chicago Tribune, January 23, 1995
- Seckerson, Edward. "Long Live the King", The Independent, 30 January 30, 1995
- Golden, Tim. A Gay Camelot Comes Home to Find It’s True”. The New York Times. 30 November 1996.
- Swed, Mark. " 'Hopper's Wife': Not for the Faint of Art" The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1997
- Feingold, Michael. Grey Gardens. The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2005-2006. ed. Jeffrey Eric Jenkins. New York: Limelight Editions, 2007. p. 49.
- Jones, Kenneth. "Frankel and Korie's Musical Doll and The Civilians' Nobody's Lunch Invited to 2005 Sundance Lab in Florida" playbill.com, October 25, 2005
- "Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater" artsandletters.org, accessed April 26, 2015
- Gans, Andrew. "Michael Cerveris Replaces Brian d'Arcy James in Ravinia's 'Doll'" playbill.com, August 5, 2003
- Interview. Playwrights Horizons. http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/trailers/tim-sanford-and-scott-frankel-richard-greenberg-and-michael-korie. Accessed 27 February 2015.
- Feingold, Michael. Grey Gardens. "The Best Plays Theater Yearbook 2005-2006", ed. Jeffrey Eric Jenkins. New York: Limelight Editions, 2007, p. 49
- Bloom, Ken and Vlastnik, Frank. "Broadway Musicals: the 101 Greatest Shows of All Time". New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2004.
- Holden, Stephen. "Setting New Standards: American Songbook Reshapes the Canon", The New York Times., January 22, 2015
- 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.
- Hetrick, Adam. "Arcelus, Foster, Gleason and More Find 'Happiness' at Lincoln Center Starting Feb. 27 playbill.com, February 27, 2009
- Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review. Accidental Tourists, on a Train to Eternity" The New York Times, March 30, 2009
- Simon, John. "Mysterious Subway Brings Strangers to Eternal Bliss" Bloomberg.com, March 30, 2009, Accessed 29 February 29, 2015
- Wallenberg, Christopher. "STAGE TO SCREENS: Songwriters Scott Frankel and Michael Korie Conjure the Passion of 'Far From Heaven' " playbill.com, July 20, 2012
- Hetrick, Adam. " 'Far From Heaven', With Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale, Concludes Off-Broadway July 7" playbill.com, July 7, 2013
- Brantley, Ben. "A Paradise and a Prison," The New York Times, June 2, 2013. Teachout, Terry. "Far From Camp", The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2013.
- Jesse Green. "The Only One", October 2, 2013 [Liner Notes] in Far From Heaven. New York: PS Classics.
- Hetrick, Adam. " 'Doctor Zhivago'Brings Russian Romance to Broadway Tonight" playbill.com, March 27, 2015
- "Korie Biography" drama.yale.edu, accessed April 26, 2015
- Jones, Kenneth. "Gay Century Songbook Released on Disc Sept. 12" playbill.com, September 12, 2000