Henry Krieger is an American songwriter, accompanist, musical director and composer. He was born on 9th February, 1945 in the then White Plains, Ossining in the United States’ New York state. His musical career has spanned for close to half a century and has seen him win several accolades such as two Grammy Awards. Despite being in his mid-sixties, Krieger is still active in both the composition and production of musicals. Currently, he lives in Greenwich Village, New York.
Krieger was born at the end of the World War II. He grew up in New York’s Westchester County and attended his first school in the neighboring Scarborough district. His interest in art must have been sparked off by the school’s renowned theatre, which was a standard theatre comparable to the Helen Hayes Theatre. Theatre and performing arts was an explored field in the United States. Hence, despite being born in a middle-class family, he had access to theatre halls and well-established schools where he easily furthered his skills. When still in high school, he joined the Apollo Theatre which was located on the 125th Street in Harlem where he played Ioanthe and Ruddigore by Gilbert and Sulllivan.
Having affirmed his interest in theatre and performing arts, he joined the American University in Wasington D.C. However, Krieger was not too fond of school. He dropped out a year later and joined Columbia University in New York. A semester later, in his twenties, he left school and decided to work on his own compositions, which he submitted to the Off-Off-Broadway theatres which were small theatrical production groups based in New York that hosted a range of performances, more so amateurish productions. In this theatrical production houses, he gained the much needed experience which was instrumental in launching his successful career (Tallmer, 2007).
Krieger’s Professional Career
Krieger’s career came into the limelight when he partnered with Tom Eyen in 1975. Consequently, they worked together on a musical, The Dirtiest Musical in Town, which was a revue of Eyen’s musical, The Dirtiest Show in Town. Although their success was not immediate, they gained inspiration from Nell Carter’s performances and chose to craft lyrics and a musical based on African-American back-up singers. This was to be used by Joe Papp in his theatrical productions. However, in 1978, Carter dropped out and joined Ryan’s Hope, an American soap opera, as part of the cast. Nonetheless, in 1979, Krieger and Eyen’s work caught the eye of Michael Bennett, the then Broadway producer, director and choreographer. The Dirtiest Musical in Town was renamed as Big Dreams. Consequently, Carter was replaced with Devine and Jennifer Holliday. Broadway productions rewrote the script several times and after numerous workshops, Big Dreams, which wasrenamed as Dreamgirls, was released in 1981.
Dreamgirls and accompanying songs were an instant hit that propelled Krieger into fame. The musical earned thirteen nominations in the Antoinette Perry Award and won in six categories. Songs used in the musical, such as ‘And I am Telling You I’m Not Going,’ became very popular. Obviously, Dreamgirls was the most influential musical amongst Krieger’s productions. Consequently, Krieger won a Grammy Award for the Original Cast Album category for his role in Dreamgirls. In 2006, Dreamgirls was released as a film. Krieger’s soundtrack topped the charts, earning him another Grammy Award in 2007 (Thornton, 2007).
The Tap Dance Kid
The instant fame generated by his role in Dreamgirls propelled Krieger, in conjunction with Robert Lorick, into the composition and production of the The Tap Dance Kid in 1983. This musical was derived from Louise Fitzhugh’s book, Nobody's Family is Going to Change and was first released at the Broadhusrt Theatre, Broadway Production’s theatre house. The Tap Dance Kid won two Antoinette Perry awards (Finish, 1986).
In 1997, over a decade later, Krieger, in conjunction with Bill Russell, composed the Side Show which premiered at New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre. The musical featured Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner as conjoined twins who, in the musical, pursued their dream of becoming the best stage performers in the city. Although the musical was nominated for four Antoinette Perry Awards, it failed to win in any category. Nonetheless, both Ripley and Skinner were co-nominated for the Best Actress in a Musical category, marking the first time for such an occurrence in the awards.
Other Notable Works
In 2000, Krieger joined forces with Bill Russell for the second time in order to produce Everything’s Ducky, a musical that enjoyed relative success. Whereas Krieger concentrated on the music, Russell formulated the lyrics. The musical premiered at California’s ThetreWorks. In the same year, it won in the Best Score category in the Backstage West Garland Award. In addition, it was nominated and won in the Best New Bay Area Play category in the Will Glickman Award. Other productions have been made in Chicago, St. Louis and La Mirada. Additionally, a revised version, Lucky Duck, was produced at the Boston Conservancy. Other works which are a result of the collaboration between Krieger and Rusell are Kept (produced by TheatreWorks in 2002), Santa's Gonna Rock and Roll (written for Radio City) and Take the Flame (produced for Gay Games IV).
In 2002, Henry collaborated with Susan Birkenhead in order to produce a television version of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty which was named as The Wonderful World of Disney. In 2008, Krieger composed the music whereas John Patrick Shanley contributed the lyrics for the production of the Romantic Poetry. It made its debut production in the Manhattan Theatre Club. Recently, Krieger and Birkenhead acquired the rights for the production of a musical which shall be based on The Flamingo Kid, a 1984 film.
Awards and Nominations
In 1982, Krieger was nominated for the Drama Desk Award and the Antoinette Perry Award in the Best Score category due to his influential role in the production of Dreamgirls and Side Show. In the same year, he won a Grammy Award for the Best Show Cast album category; which was recognition of his superb composition skills in the production of the musical Dreamgirls. In 1985, he was nominated for the prestigious Grammy Awards for the musical The Tap Dance Kid. In 1998, he was nominated for the Best Score category in the Antoinette Perry Award due to his creative role in the production of the Side Show. Finally,in 2007, he won a Grammy Award for the ‘Best Song Written for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media’ category’ which acknowledged his exemplary skills in the production of ‘Love you I do’ in Dreamgirls (Henry Krieger, 2011).
Arguably, Krieger’s works are a reflection of the 1960s, an environment which he grew up in. There is a heavy influence from the R&B stars of the 60s such as Chuck Jackson, Etta James and The Drifters. In addition, he grew up when the civil rights movement were picking momentum. Although this is quite evident in his compositions, a neo-urban feel has been ingrained that renders the musicals an appealing nature across generations. Krieger has established himself as an icon in the theatrical productions arena with major achievements and awards despite the fact that he chose not to complete his academics. He is an outstanding talent and will be celebrated for generations to come.