2015 has been a watershed year for female musical theatre creators.  For the first time in history, an all-women creative team won the Tony Award for Best Original Score in a Musical (Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron for their musical, Fun Home).  Three female composers also had shows open on Broadway during the same season (Jeanine Tesori, Lucy Simon, and Barbara Anselmi).  Although two of those musicals have since closed, the recent Broadway revival of The Color Purple ensures that multiple female songwriters will be represented on The Great White Way during the remainder of this year and beyond.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I would like to shine a spotlight on twenty-five influential female composers and lyricists in musical theatre today.  I feel that some of the songwriters below do not receive the credit they deserve for the important artistic contributions they have made to musical theatre in recent years.  I hope this post helps to remedy that situation somewhat.  I have provided video examples of their songwriting work to view at your leisure as well.  Enjoy!

[EDIT: The list below is only a sampling of the MANY wonderful women songwriters working in musical theatre today.  It is NOT comprehensive or exhaustive in scope.  Thank you to those who have contacted me with other fabulous songwriter recommendations.  If you are researching female contemporary musical theatre writers, please continue to look beyond this blog post as well (there are many other amazing songwriters out there!).]

1. JEANINE TESORI (composer & arranger)
Major Works: Violet, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Shrek the Musical, Caroline, or Change, Fun Home

Songwriting Excerpt: “Lot’s Wife” from Caroline, or Change (lyricist: Tony Kushner)

2. LYNN AHRENS (lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Lucky Stiff, Once on this Island, My Favorite Year, A Christmas Carol, Ragtime, Seussical, A Man of No Importance, Dessa Rose, Chiva Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, The Glorious Ones, Rocky the Musical, Little Dancer

Songwriting Excerpt: “Back to Before” from Ragtime (composer: Stephen Flaherty)

3. MARSHA NORMAN (playwright, lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: The Secret Garden, The Red Shoes, The Color Purple, The Bridges of Madison County, ‘night, Mother (play)

Songwriting Excerpt: “Lily’s Eyes” (genderbent version) from The Secret Garden (composer: Lucy Simon)

4. LUCY SIMON (composer)
Major Works: The Secret Garden, Doctor Zhivago

Songwriting Excerpt: “It Came As No Surprise” from Doctor Zhivago (lyricists: Michael Korie & Amy Powers)

5. BRENDA RUSSELL (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: The Color Purple

Songwriting Excerpt: “I’m Here” from The Color Purple (co-written with Allee Willis & Stephen Bray)

6. ALLEE WILLIS (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: The Color Purple

Songwriting Excerpt: “The Color Purple” from The Color Purple (co-written with Brenda Russell & Stephen Bray)

7. AMANDA GREEN (lyricist & composer)
Major Works: High Fidelity, Bring It On, Hands on a Hardbody

Songwriting Excerpt: “One Perfect Moment” from Bring It On: The Musical (co-lyricist: Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer: Tom Kitt)

8. NELL BENJAMIN (playwright, composer, lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Legally Blonde, Sarah, Plain and Tall, Cam Jensen, Pirates!, The Explorers Club (play)

Songwriting Excerpt: “So Much Better” from Legally Blonde: The Musical (co-written with Laurence O’Keefe)

9. LISA KRON (playwright, lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Fun Home, many plays

Songwriting Excerpt: “Ring of Keys” from Fun Home (composer: Jeanine Tesori)

10. LISA LAMBERT (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: The Drowsy Chaperone

Songwriting Excerpt: “Bride’s Lament” from The Drowsy Chaperone (co-written with Greg Morrison)

11. MINDI DICKSTEIN (lyricist)
Major Work: Little Women, Toy Story: The Musical

Songwriting Excerpt: “Astonishing” from Little Women (composer: Jason Howland)

12. JILL SANTORIELLO (composer, lyricist & book writer)
Major Work: A Tale of Two Cities

Songwriting Excerpt: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” from A Tale of Two Cities 

13. BARBARA ANSELMI (composer, music director & arranger)
Major Work: It Shoulda Been You

Songwriting Excerpt: “Jenny’s Blues” from It Shoulda Been You (lyricist: Brian Hargrove)

14. KAIT KERRIGAN (playwright, lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Henry and MudgeThe Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, The Woman Upstairs, Wrong Number

Songwriting Excerpt: “Say the Word” from The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown (composer: Brian Lowdermilk)

15. GEORGIA STITT (composer, lyricist & music supervisor)
Major Works: Big Red Sun, The Danger Year, Mosaic, Samantha Spade: Ace Detective, The Water

Songwriting Excerpt: “Stop” from The Danger Year 

16. JENNY GIERING (composer)
Major Works: The Mistress Cycle, Crossing Brooklyn, Saint-Ex

Songwriting Excerpt: “You Are What You Are” from The Mistress Cycle (Lyricist: Beth Blatt)

17. BETH BLATT (lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: The Mistress Cycle, Princess Caraboo, Hashi, Oneida

Songwriting Excerpt: “Lovely Lies” (composer: Jeff Blumenkrantz)

18. JULIA JORDAN (playwright, lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Murder Ballad, Sarah, Plan and Tall

Songwriting Excerpt: “Murder Ballad” from Murder Ballad (composer: Juliana Nash)

19. JULIANA NASH (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: Murder Ballad

Songwriting Excerpt: “Coffee’s On” from Murder Ballad (lyricist: Julia Jordan)

20. MARCY HEISLER (lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Ever After, Dear Edwina, Junie B. Jones, Snow White Red Rose

Songwriting Excerpt: “Out of Love” (composer: Zina Goldrich)

21. ZINA GOLDRICH (composer)
Major Works: Ever After, Dear Edwina, Junie B. Jones, Snow White Red Rose

Songwriting Excerpt: “Los Pinguinos” (lyricist: Marcy Heisler)

22. KIRSTEN GUENTHER (lyricist & book writer)
Major Works: Mrs. Sharp, Little Miss Fix-It, Soon Never, The Birthday Present

Songwriting Excerpt: “Accident Prone” (composer: Laurence O’Keefe)

23. JOY SON (composer)
Major Works: The Fisher KingLittle Miss Fix-It, The United States of Us, Lovers in Paris, Runaway Beat

Songwriting Excerpt: “Better Than Dreaming” from Better Than Dreaming (lyricist: Alan Gordon)

24. ZOE SARNAK (composer & lyricist)
Major Works: Mixtape, The Years Between, A Lasting Impression

Songwriting Excerpt: “Me” from A Lasting Impression  

25. CARMEL DEAN (composer & lyricist)
Major Works: A Girl Called VincentSongs of Innocence and Experience

Songwriting Excerpt: “Still I Rise” (poem lyrics: Maya Angelou)

I also need to acknowledge three amazing women who were already commercial music mega-stars before writing successful contemporary musicals:

DOLLY PARTON (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: 9 to 5

Songwriting Excerpt: “Get Out and Stay Out” from 9 to 5 

CYNDI LAUPER (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: Kinky Boots

Songwriting Excerpt: “History of Wrong Guys” from Kinky Boots 

SARA BAREILLES (composer & lyricist)
Major Work: Waitress

Songwriting Excerpt: “She Used to Be Mine” from Waitress 


Kevin Michael Jones

3 thoughts

    1. Thanks Cindy, I am a huge fan of Kristen’s work, and the omission here was unintentional (as were a few others). I have received so many recommendations for more female musical theatre songwriters that I think there either needs to be Part 2 to this post or a separate page dedicated to this topic (or even a full site). How exciting to have so many amazing women songwriters working in musical theatre today!

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