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20 Writers to Join 9th Annual Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals

Submitted by Elisa Hale.

11 Brand New Musicals will be developed during this year’s exclusive virtual retreat –

This year’s participants boast credits as diverse as:

  • Grammy® Award winner (T. Defoe)
  • Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist (J. Bernstein)
  • Saudi Arabian performance artist named one of BBC’s 100 Most Powerful Women (R. Tarabzouni)
  • Composer of Treasure in NYC, an immersive musical adventure for autistic children (R. Siddiqui)
  • Beacon Award recipient for the documentary Save Our History: Voices of Civil Rights  (Dr. A. Ghartey)
  • Member of Cirque du Soleil’s Creative Cognoscenti (S. Cannold)
  • Founding Member of Musical Theatre Factory (Z. Zadek)
  • Mentors for American Theatre Wing High School Musical Theatre Songwriting Challenge (T. Sinutoke, I. Dawis)
  • Platinum-selling songwriter, composer and musician (K. Puccia)
  • Executive Producer of Broadway for Biden’s “In Our America” Concert (N. Doran)
  • Band Leader, Composer and Lead Vocalist for the six-piece ensemble MAD NOISE (K. Sullivan)

EAST HADDAM, CONN., APRIL 7, 2021: This year’s Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals is going virtual! In what has become an annual ritual, a total of 20 established and emerging composers, lyricists and librettists representing 11 new musicals will gather in a unique virtual space April 18 – May 1, 2021, creating a truly exciting environment for discovery and inspiration.

“The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed is one creative program COVID will not deter! In February of 2020, The Grove was the last regularly scheduled in-person program Goodspeed held and we are thrilled to offer a virtual 9th annual JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed to this talented group of writers working on a diverse and inspiring selection of new musicals” shared Goodspeed’s Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton.  “We are especially grateful to the Johnny Mercer Foundation which, in response to Goodspeed’s pandemic losses, has assumed 100% of the program costs this year allowing us to continue to support the of work of musical theatre writers during our shutdown,” said Hilton.

Traditionally The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed participants converge on the Goodspeed campus from mid-January through mid-February for an extended retreat but the current limitations of the pandemic have prompted a creative solution in the form of a virtual haven for participants.  Jonathan Brielle, Executive Vice President of JMF and Writer/Producer in Residence stated, “Although we’d rather be together in-person, we are still looking forward to participating in one of the best musical theater think tanks, The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed. During these challenging times, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with our colleagues remotely and present the result of each day’s work in progress with our peers.  Our sense of community continues and we look forward to rejoining our in-person Grove next year.”

As established in 2013, The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed is an unparalleled, long-term residency program devoted exclusively to musical theatre writing.  It provides a sanctuary for composers, lyricists, and librettists to embark on new musical theatre work or to devote a substantial amount of time to a work-in-progress in an environment rich with creative energy. Although working remotely, this year’s writing teams will connect regularly, receiving support from dramaturgical experts and Goodspeed’s fine music department. In the evenings writers will meet for informal, salon-style check-ins to share the day’s work. This communal gathering will allow the artists an invaluable opportunity to gain insight from their colleagues. The Grove is the ultimate think tank of veteran Broadway and young working professionals in theater today.

Over the course of the program, composer/lyricist Jonathan Brielle will again serve as a writer and Producer in Residence. Mr. Brielle is a writer, composer and lyricist. His first Broadway credit was writing music and lyrics for Foxfire starring theater legends Hume CronynJessica Tandy (who won the Tony) and Keith Carradine. Subsequently, he became Composer in Residence of the prestigious Circle Repertory Company in New York, providing scores for some of New York’s top playwrights. His recent credits include Himself and Nora (book, music, lyrics), Minetta Lane Theater 2016;  Nightmare Alley (book, music, lyrics), Geffen Playhouse; and 40 Naked Women, A Monkey and Me (book, music, lyrics), Eugene O’Neill Cabaret Conference.  His Las Vegas shows include book, music and lyrics for Enter The Night (Stardust) and MADhattan (New York, New York). For television, he is the music director and composer for “Wonderama” on the Tribune network. He continues to serve as Executive Vice President of the Johnny Mercer Foundation and for this year’s JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed will be working with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jake Bernstein on an untitled project.

Clifford Lee Johnson III will serve as Resident Dramaturge. As part of Wonder City Productions, he produces and develops new plays and musicals. Their current projects include moving a musical to Broadway and creating another about a beloved American figure. Between 1993 and 2009, he was the Director of Musical Development at Manhattan Theatre Club; prior to that he was the Assistant Literary Manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville.  He has been a critic for BACKSTAGE and published articles on the theater in various publications.  He has also taught at the Kenyon Playwrights Conference and served as an adviser during the creation of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Mr. Johnson recently co-created the Theater Consultants Resource website, a centralized location for consultants wishing to share information and clients seeking to locate consultants.

Goodspeed’s Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton is guiding Goodspeed Musicals’ efforts on The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed with additional artistic support from Goodspeed Artistic Associates Anika Chapin and Michael Fling. Chapin will provide further dramaturgical support.

The Grove created a confluence of Goodspeed’s long-held mission of fostering new works and JMF’s  dedication to nurturing the discipline of songwriting. With this unique collaboration, Goodspeed continues to be an incubator for the next generation of musical theatre artists and performers, as well as the home of the American Musical. This is best-illustrated by several projects that Goodspeed has moved from The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed forward to production including the acclaimed 2019 productions of Passing Through by Brett Ryback and Eric Ulloa and Hi, My Name Is Ben by Scott Gilmour and Claire MacKenzie and as well as the 2017 productions of Deathless and Darling GrenadineIndian Joe in 2015, and Chasing Rainbows in 2016.

The outstanding writers who have been invited to participate in the 2021 JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed have earned tremendous recognition in the industry with honors including Pulitzer Prizes and Grammy Awards, Global Indigenous Heritage Festival Award, Obie Award, Jonathan Larson Award, New Voices Award (Disney/NMI), Harrington Award for Creative Excellence, Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award, Robert Rauschenberg Artist-in-Residence, Beacon Award, TED Fellow, ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Lyric Award, ASCAP Foundation Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Award, ASCAP Foundation Max Dreyfus Scholarship, Sundance Institute Fellow, Marion Fellowship Award, New Music USA Grant, Weston–Ghostlight New Musical Award, BroadwayWorld Award, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, inaugural Show Shepherd Career Launch Fellowship and RI International Film Festival Directorial Discovery Award among other awards and nominations.

Goodspeed is pleased to announce that the 2021 participants are (in alphabetical order) Preston Max Allen, Avi AmonJake Bernstein, Jonathan Brielle, Sammi Cannold, Isabella Dawis, Ty Defoe, Nolan DoranAmma Y. Ghartey, Jessica Kahkoska, Kyle Puccia, Kalani Queypo, Jorge Miguel Rivera-Herrans, Andy Roninson, Rona SiddiquiTidtaya Sinutoke, Kahlil Sullivan, Rotana Tarabzouni, Joshua Williams and Zack Zadek.


The mission of the Johnny Mercer Foundation (JMF) is to support the discipline of songwriting in the tradition of the Great American Songbook as exemplified by the life and work of the legendary Johnny Mercer: lyricist, composer, performer, collaborator and producer.  The Foundation continues Johnny’s legacy by partnering with individuals and organizations dedicated to celebrating and nourishing the disciplines he mastered and the causes he and his wife Ginger Mercer championed.

JMF has created a number of dynamic creative joint ventures with several prestigious institutions to facilitate their goals including the Johnny Mercer Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals, Accentuate the Positive Programs (New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta), The Musical Theater Program at NJPAC, Georgia State University Fellowship Program, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project with Northwestern University and the Johnny Mercer Archives at Georgia State University. JMF also supports the Johnny Mercer Music Program at the Braille Institute, Los Angeles.  For more information, please visit


Goodspeed Musicals has achieved international acclaim and is the first theatre in the nation to receive two Tony Awards for outstanding achievement in musical theatre. Under the leadership of Donna Lynn Hilton, Artistic Director and David B. Byrd, Managing Director, Goodspeed Musicals is dedicated to the celebration, development and advancement of musical theatre. Goodspeed creates powerful, world-class productions of enlightening new and established works to entertain and inspire audiences. From Goodspeed, 21 musicals have gone to Broadway (including Man of La ManchaAnnie and Shenandoah) and more than 90 new musicals have been launched.  Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals and The Johnny Mercer Writers Grove at Goodspeed are distinguished cornerstones of the organization that highlight its commitment to nurture the talents of new and established artists and support the creative process. Goodspeed also maintains The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre and The Max Showalter Center for Education in Musical Theatre. Goodspeed gratefully acknowledges the support of United Airlines, the official airline of Goodspeed Musicals and official audio sponsor Sennheiser. The organization is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts.

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