Perhaps best known for his threefold role in the musical A Class Act – in which he played the main character, directed, and helped write the book – Lonny Price was born in New York City and brought up in New Jersey. He studied at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, where at the ripe age of twenty-three he returned to deliver a commencement address. By then he had already performed on Broadway with bit parts in Susan Nanus’s play The Survivor (1981) and Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy Merrily We Roll Along (1981), which featured a pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.
By 1982, however, Price landed the role of Hal (Master Harold) in the Broadway premiere of the three-character play Master Harold . . . and the Boys, an anti-apartheid work by the South African author Athol Fugard, also starring Danny Glover and Zakes Mokae. The play earned a Tony® nomination for Best Play and put Price on the thespian map.
In 1986 Price returned to Broadway to play Ben in Rags, a musical about the garment industry and Jewish immigrants in New York’s Lower East Side. Though it starred the Met diva Theresa Stratas, the show fared poorly during its brief Broadway run yet earned several Tony® and Drama Desk nominations; Stratas won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. (A cast album, with Julia Migenes replacing Stratas, was issued in 1990.)
In the next few years, Price continued to act in plays – including George Abbott and Philip Dunning’s Broadway and Lanford Wilson’s Burn This – but his career took a new turn in 1989 with an off-Broadway revival of the musical The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N, based on stories by Leo Rosten. This was Price’s debut as a director, and directing would become an increasingly important side of Price’s career. He directed off-Broadway revivals of The Rothschilds (1990) and Juno (1992), and he expanded the scope of his activities even further in 1994 with Sally Marr . . . and Her Escorts, a play he directed and co-wrote, with Joan Rivers starring as Sally Marr (Lenny Bruce’s mother). He also joined the cast of the off-Broadway musical Falsettoland in the 1990s.
But he was able to combine his multiple skills as a performer, writer, and director in the musical A Class Act (2001), in which he portrayed Edward Kleban, the lyricist for the smash hit A Chorus Line. Price also served as director for A Class Act and, with Linda Kline, wrote the book. It is a look back at Kleban’s life, at his achievements as well as obstacles to his success – and also a “musical about musicals” that earned numerous Tony® and Drama Desk nominations.
Price’s directing has continued more recently with Urban Cowboy (2003), the musical based on the popular John Travolta movie; Master Harold . . . and the Boys (2003); and 110 in the Shade (2007), with Audra McDonald. He has also worked with the New York Philharmonic on its productions of Sweeney Todd and Candide, as well as with McDonald on her 2006 New Year’s Eve concert, broadcast from Lincoln Center on PBS.
His film credits include The Muppets Take Manhattan and Dirty Dancing.