Frank Evans, Lyricist, Librettist, and Artistic Director of Manhattan Musical Theatre Lab
As a musical theater librettist, lyricist and lifelong connoisseur of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, Frank Evans would have been extremely sad to learn about the passing of screen legend Debbie Reynolds on December 28. But given his sense of humor and ability for self-deprecation, Evans might have also gotten a perverse kick out of knowing he died on the same day as one of his film favorites.
Franklin G. Evans, 70, died last Wednesday evening at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn, due to complications from multiple strokes that ravaged his brain over the last couple of months of 2016. Evans, who also suffered from Parkinson’s-related dementia and diabetes, had spent the last year rehabilitating from a serious concussion sustained in December 2015.
“Count the marvelous Frank Evans amongst the many greats we lost this year,” wrote composer/lyricist David Austin on Facebook. “He may not have been a household name, but if you wrote new musicals, Frank was famous to you.” Added composer/arranger Dan Acquisto: “Frank was a gentle and soft-spoken mentor, supporter, and brilliant lyricist who helped a number of unknown writers have their voices heard over the years.”
“The York Theatre Company will miss Frank Evans, its friend and frequent collaborator over the years,” said James Morgan, the York’s Producing Artistic Director. “Frank was a gentleman’s gentleman, as well as a wise and talented writer. We are deeply saddened by his passing.”
“Frank Evans was a supportive fellow artist and I’m so sad about his passing,” said songwriter Kristen Anderson Lopez, who with husband Robert Lopez wrote the songs for the Academy Award winning Walt Disney animated musical, Frozen. “I remember when Bobby and I had our first daughter, Frank’s advice was, “Don’t be afraid to get babysitters–it’s the only way you will keep writing.” His words rang in my head and now I pass them on to pregnant mom writers.”
Frank Evans was born on September 26, 1946 in Cleveland, OH. He attended Antioch College where he earned a BA in Theater. After moving to New York in his early 20s, he worked as a stage manager at McCarter Theatre in New Jersey and at New York’s Town Hall, among other venues. As a budding lyricist, Evans was accepted into the prestigious BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in 1980, and was named to the Steering Committee in the late ’90s. In the early 2000s, Evans became a more hands-on contributor to the organization’s public relations efforts and a producer of many informal presentations of new musicals, as well as special events.
With his long-time domestic partner Ron Sproat (who was a prominent TV soap opera writer from the mid 1960s-early ‘70s, including the iconic show Dark Shadows), Evans wrote two successful off-Broadway musicals, Back Home: The War Brides Musical (score by Christopher Berg) and Abie’s Island Rose (score by Doug Katsaros, additional lyrics by Richard Engquist), which featured Heather Mac Rae in the original New York cast.
In 2002, BMI presented Evans with the Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre for his work with librettist Julie Gilbert on Dinner at Eight (music by Ben Schaechter), a musical based on the George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber classic play. Evans again collaborated with Gilbert in 2010-2011 on the play PUMA (directed by New Jersey Repertory artistic director SuzAnne Barabas), which depicted the three-decade long love affair between “All Quiet on the Western Front” author Erich Maria Remarque and international film star and chanteuse Marlene Dietrich. The play received rave reviews from the New York Times, Back Stage, and the Asbury Park Press, among others.
“Frank was a dream collaborator who was overwhelmingly generous,” said Gilbert, who became one of Evans’ closest friends. Evans even served as matchmaker for Gilbert and her husband Bob Holof, a film producer. “Frank was very funny and made you feel that you were funny.”
In 2000, Evans became co-Artistic Director of Musical Mondays Theatre Lab (now Manhattan Musical Theatre Lab), a non-profit organization fostering the development of new musicals founded by Richard “Bick” Goss in 1999. During Frank’s 16 years with MMTL, the group presented dozens of fledgling works, including the first readings of the Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt Tony Award-winning musical Next To Normal when it was still entitled Feeling Electric. Under Evans and Goss (who died in 2013), MMTL also championed the work of Tony Award winners Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, and 2009 Ed Kleban Prize Winners Eric Weinberger and Beth Falcone (Wanda’s World).
Under Evans’ artistic guidance, MMTL sometimes offered new musicals multiple presentations as the shows continued developing. For example, The Dirty Hippie Jam Band Project, featuring music and lyrics by Daniel Israel and Pheobe Kreutz (with book by Rob Ackerman) had three readings with MMTL, most recently in 2013.
“Frank took our work very seriously and would attend rehearsals, offer feedback, and was always the kind, supportive figure that we needed,” said Israel, who in 2015 became MMTL Board President. “Everyone connected with our show loved him. Frank’s heart, kindness, friendship, and classic laugh made him uniquely special in the musical theater world.”
In the months before his death, Evans had been serving as lyricist and book doctor for a musical about the legendary Howard Hughes, with music by James Scully. Last January, in spite of still recovering from his concussion, Evans attended an industry-only reading of HOWARD at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center.
Former MMTL Board President Stephen Hanks, who was Evans’ caregiver during his yearlong illness, said that a memorial service is being planned for early spring, with details to be announced at a later date.