The winner of multiple Tony Awards®, Lehman Engel was a Renaissance man. In fact, he edited several volumes of Renaissance and Baroque choral masterpieces – yet he had his finger very much on the pulse of his own times as a composer, an author, a conductor, and a musical director. His Broadway credits are legion, with highlights including T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (1936), Maxwell Anderson’s Anne of the Thousand Days (1948), Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Harold Rome’s I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1962). He also conducted on the acclaimed 1951 recording of Porgy and Bess.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1910, he studied at the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Conservatory before moving to New York in 1929. There he worked on composition with Rubin Goldmark at Juilliard and later with Roger Sessions. With the Lehman Engel Singers and the Madrigal Singers in the 1930s, he explored vocal music from the sixteenth century to the twentieth.
In 1934, Engel wrote incidental music for Sean O’Casey’s expressionist play Within the Gates, which would prove the first of many Broadway productions that he would be associated with. Two years later he wrote incidental music for Eliot’s verse drama about the assassination of Thomas Becket, Murder in the Cathedral.
From the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, Engel was steadily involved in Broadway productions, taking on a new stage work almost every year, several times taking on more than one production in a year. In 1938 alone, he wrote incidental music for the Elizabethan comedy The Shoemaker’s Holiday (directed by Orson Welles) and for Hamlet (with Maurice Evans in the title role), arrangements for Madame Capet, and choral arrangements for Everywhere I Roam.
In 1946 he began his association with Harold Rome with Call Me Mister, for which Engel was the musical director. Rome and Engel would team up again for Alive and Kicking (1950), Bless You All (1950), Fanny (1954), Destry Rides Again (1959), I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1962), and La Grosse Valise (1965).
In addition to musical theater, Engel conducted premiere performances of several operas: Kurt Weill’s Johnny Johnson (1936), Aaron Copland’s The Second Hurricane (1937), and Gian Carlo Menotti’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Consul (1950).
For all his busy activity on the stage, Engel also spent a lot of time in the studio, conducting recordings of many of the great musicals: Girl Crazy, Oh, Kay!, Babes in Arms, Pal Joey, The Student Prince, Oklahoma!, Carousel, and Show Boat.
In 1958 he was the musical director for Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, which he also conducted for the television broadcast later that year. Other television credits include Hallmark Hall of Fame productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night.
Further Broadway highlights include his work as musical director for Li’l Abner (1957) and What Makes Sammy Run? (1964). He earned Tonys® in the Conductor and Musical Director category for The Consul (1951), Wonderful Town (1953), and for five Gilbert and Sullivan works he conducted in 1953.
Among his books are The American Musical Theater: A Consideration and Words with Music: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto.