Today we celebrate Lehman Engel, famed Broadway composer/arranger/musical director/conductor. Born on this day in 1910, Mr. Engel conducted over 100 musicals, and is considered one of musical theatre’s all-time greats.
Mr. Engel’s many conducting/music directing credits include BRIGADOON, WONDERFUL TOWN, FANNY, LI’L ABNER, JAMAICA, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, TAKE ME ALONG, DO RE MI, I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE, and WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Lehman Engel began studying piano at age ten, and continued his studies at The Cincinnati Conservatory, The Cincinnati College of Music, and The Juilliard School. His career in theatre began when he wrote incidental music for Sean O’Casey’s play Within the Gates. The music was deemed superior to the play, and Mr. Engel continued working in theater, television, audio recording, and film.
Engel was nominated for 9 Tony Awards, and won the award for Best Conductor and Musical Director SIX times. (The category was discontinued after 1964.)
In 1951, Engel conducted the orchestra for the first (nearly) complete recording of Gershwin’s PORGY AND BESS. The Columbia Masterworks album was highly acclaimed, and remained the definitive recording of the opera for decades.
In 1961, he founded the esteemed BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, where aspiring composers, lyricists, and librettists develop their craft. In 2006, the Workshop received a Special Drama Desk Award “for nurturing, developing and promoting new talent for the musical theater.”
Lehman Engel wrote several notable books about Musical Theatre, including Words With Music (1972), Getting Started in the Theater (1973), This Bright Day (1974), The American Musical Theater (1975), Their Words Are Music (1975), and The Making of a Musical (1977).
Mr. Engel died on August 29, 1982 at the age of 71. He left an enduring legacy of excellence in the musical theatre, and was universally admired by his peers. Composer Harold Rome said of Engel, “He probably knew more about musical comedy and its musical technique than anybody else.”