Amas Musical Theater today announced the recipients of the third Eric H. Weinberger Award for Emerging Librettists, a cash and production grant awarded annually to support the early work and career of a deserving musical theater librettist, commemorating the life and work of a playwright / librettist Eric H. Weinberger (1950-2017), who was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Best Book in a Musical (Wanda’s World), and the Class Mothers ’68 playwright / librettist, which earned Pricilla Lopez a Drama Desk Award nomination .
Gabe Caruso and Sangwoo ‘Simon’ Lee, 2020 graduates of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Drama Writing Program, were selected from over 48 blind submissions for their full musical SETTLE DOWN: A New Hip Hop Musical. In addition to a check for $ 2,000 to help pay for cost of living expenses, Mr. Caruso and Mr. Lee receive development assistance from the Amas Musical Theater “New Works Development Program”, culminating in the rehearsal and interpretation of the work by New York Theater Professionals in a production by Amas Lab. Amas has been the development home of several Mr. Weinberger musicals and produced the world premiere of Wanda’s World and the New York premiere of Tea for Three.
Settle Down: A New Hip Hop Musical ** is a romantic, rap musical comedy that follows the story of two teenage boys as they pass from best friends to family. A small show, four characters, and a narrator / host explore the darker sides of the reception system, expulsion from school, teenage pregnancy, and suicide. Although the scenes are all rapped, the musical moments encompass a wide variety of genres ranging from K-Pop to folk. At its core, the series asks the question, “What does it take to really be a family?”
In an artistic statement for the submission, Mr Caruso said, “When Sangwoo and I decided to write Settle Down, we had a few goals for our vision: very small cast, we kept the venues to a minimum, kept the story. family and fill each character with secrets that would be devastating for the other characters to learn. Our intention has always been to make a show that would be easily achievable. For this reason, it mostly takes place in our family’s house, with a few exceptions being a scene at school and a few scenes on a bridge. Since this show is about the universality of the family, we thought it would be best to write a show that has very few barriers to produce. While writing this hip-hopera, we assumed it will be compared to Hamilton, but we think this piece couldn’t be further from Lin’s masterpiece. This story does not turn. around one character, but instead focus on the complex relationships and roles that people are forced to assume when living under one roof. This show was written by a Caucasian American male of Cuban descent and a Korean male. As you go along, you’ll see that a lot of our characters are listed as non-white. This is due to two reasons. First, we didn’t want our protagonist, Mark, to be a white man. Given the current climate in America, we don’t want this to be hip-hopera about how hard it is to be white in America. We also don’t want Lily and John to be white because we don’t want to contribute to another white savior story in the world. Second, we are aware that hip-hop is an art form created by blacks, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans and Haitians, out of conditions of poverty created by white politicians. We ask anyone interested in putting on this show to strictly adhere to the racial guidelines for these three characters. Finally, we wanted to create a show with ups and downs, but basically we want audiences to understand that life isn’t always what it seems. We rarely know the full story or the full range of emotions that the people we interact with have gone through. We hope this show inspires those who see it to accept those around them better and understand that everyone makes mistakes, but no mistake is irremediable. “
Mr. Lee shared the development process: “Settle Down is our thesis that we created while getting our MFA at NYU-Tisch. Our musical was originally based on a report in which a doctor at a fertility clinic was arrested for using his own semen in over 40 cases. After a few drafts, we realized that this story was cruel in that our characters were being punished for something they didn’t deserve. We went back to the drawing board and focused on what is really important to us. We wanted our characters to have to deal with the consequences of their own actions rather than struggling on their own. We looked inward and asked what we wanted to spend the year writing about. We found a word: family. Our series’ writing journey has taken us a lot of twists and turns, but when the tokens are / were down we have always stuck with the central theme of family love and the concept of unconventional family structures. base, it’s a story about Mark, a foster child who never had a family, and his deep desire to be one. The other characters in this play also have a desire to be a part of something bigger, but struggle to let go of what they have in order to become vulnerable enough to love and be loved. “
“We are very happy to welcome Gabe and Simon to the Amas family,” said Donna Trinkoff, Artistic Producer of the Musical Theater Amas. “We are pleased to continue to commemorate Eric’s memory and look forward to the further development of this important coin.”
Gabe Caruso is a New York-based rapper / actor / playwright who loves nothing more than breaking expectations. After graduating from the Second City Conservatory and Conservatory of Music in 2012 and 2013, he continued to perform dramatic improvisation as a member of the Theater Momentum ensemble, where he began teaching theater. He taught and performed for the burgeoning comedy theater Under the Gun in Chicago for two years. His first hip-hop-centric one man show, “The Greatest Rappers Alive” received rave reviews and encouraged him to write a full rap show. Self-produced, “Dundee” became a fan favorite, earning him the Chicago Reader’s “Best Playwright” and “Best New Play” accolades in 2017. He then left Chicago to attend NYU Tisch, where he got his MFA. in musical theater writing in 2020. He now resides in East Harlem with his wife, Colleen.
Sangwoo ‘Simon’ Lee is a New York-based singer / songwriter and music director from South Korea. He wrote music for the musicals ANDERSON (National Theater Company of Korea) in 2014 and Just Sex (Seoul Institute of the Arts) in 2013, each of which premiered in Seoul, South Korea. He also toured South Korea nationally with UGLY DUCKLING (Street Theater Troupe) from 2014 to 2018 as a composer and musical director. Simon has also composed many K-pop songs for other singers. Simon’s work has been performed in MA, NYC and Seoul. He holds a bachelor’s degree in songwriting from Berklee College of Music and recently received an MFA in musical theater writing from NYU Tisch School of Arts.
Eric H. Weinberger (1950-2017) was a playwright and musical theater librettist. Her credits include Class Mothers ’68, with Priscilla López (Off Broadway and Moon stage – Star Ledger Award for Best New Comedy in New Jersey), Six Hands (Yale University and Moon stage), The night watchman (Moon stage and On the Rock Productions, Key West), Tea for Three, with and featuring Elaine bromka (Amas musical theater and on tour in the country since 2004, www.teaforthree.com), three children’s shows at Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Peterborough, NH. Musicals: Wanda’s World (Amas Musical Theater, nomination for the Drama Desk Award for the best book in a musical, Lucille Lortel Nomination for Best Musical) and published by Theatrical Rights Worldwide, www.wandasworldmusical.com), … and then I wrote a song about it (Moon stage and the Diversionary Theater in San Diego, www.andtheniwroteaongaboutit.com), Brothers, Boyfriends and Other Criminals, (Zach Theater in Austin, Texas), A Dog Story (Off Broadway and The Waterfront Playhouse, Key West). Workshop production of Giant Steps, an “urban” version of Jack & The Beanstalk (U of Texas in Austin).