Sarah Schlesinger, an award-winning lyricist and librettist who mentored swathes of composers and lyricists through her position at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, passed away December 14 following an illness. News of her passing was confirmed by the GMTW program.
Throughout her career as a writer, Ms. Schlesinger received the Kleban Award for Best Lyricist, the Richard Rodgers Award, a Gilman-Gonzalez Falla Theatre Foundation Award, and Chicago’s Jeff Award for Best Original Musical for her musical The Ballad of Little Jo, co-written with Grammy winner Mike Reid.
In addition to The Ballad of Little Jo, Ms. Schlesinger and Reid collaborated on five other musicals; The Last Day, Casanova Returns, Prairie Songs, A Wind in the Willows Christmas, and In This House. Outside of their collaboration, Ms. Schlesinger collaborated with David Evans, Mindi Dickstein, Mel Marvin, Jonathan Bernstein, and Bruce Adolphe. She was the lyricist and librettist for Love Comics, which premiered at the George Street Playhouse, and Swing Shift at the Manhattan Theatre Club. In the years prior to her passing, she was working on lyrics for Blueberry Pie, a musical about the National Guard in Iraq, and book and lyrics for a new musical based on Turgenev's Month In The Country.
At New York University, Ms. Schlesinger began working for the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program in 1989 with the fourth cycle of composers and lyricists. She served as Associate Chair of the department from 1995 to 1997, and Acting Chair in 1997. Ms. Schlesinger was named Chair in 1998, and also became the Associate Dean of Tisch's Institute of Performing Arts in 2014.
Ms. Schlesinger was the recipient of the Tisch School of the Arts David Payne-Carter Award for Excellence in Teaching, the NYU Distinguished Teaching Award and the NYU Millennium Award in honor of Emerging Musical Theatre Artists for a New Century, which she received alongside collaborator Mike Reid.
The GMTW program released the following remembrance with news of Ms. Schlesinger's passing.
"Sarah had an importance in transforming the GMTWP from a program that accepted 14-17 students every two years into a program with two concurrent classes of 30-36 students each. Under her leadership, the program produced a huge, international alumni network of artists who are at the forefront of every facet of musical theatre activity: as creators, teachers, scholars and business leaders.
"Her insight, razor-sharp mind and her ability to get things done and to identify and encourage faculty, students and alums was frankly staggering in its longevity and reach. Sarah was a force that could make things happen. We will miss her terribly, but we will also cherish the work she did for the program and the School and for her foundational contributions to the teaching of this elusive and amorphous art form.
"She believed deeply in collaboration as its cornerstone, never doubting its power to change the world."
An in-person and virtual celebration of Ms. Schlesinger's impact will be held in the spring, with details to be released at a later date. She is survived by the hundreds of artists she has influenced.