Lyricist, librettist, and composer Lynn Ahrens (b. 1 October 1948, New York, USA) and composer Stephen Flaherty (b. 18 September 1960, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA) met in 1982 when they both attended the Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) Musical Theatre Workshop. Ahrens was raised mostly in Neptune, New Jersey, and graduated with a degree in journalism from Syracuse University in 1970. After moving to New York, she worked in advertising, and then joined the creative team of Schoolhouse Rock (1973), a children’s television series of animated educational shorts. In 1978, she formed her own production company, specializing in lively, informative programmes for youngsters, including the Emmy Award-winning H.E.L.P. Flaherty, on the other hand, had nursed ambitions to be a writer for the musical theatre since his early teens, and composed his first score at the age of 14. While he was studying at the Cincinnati College Conservatory, Flaherty was encouraged by Lehman Engel, the director of workshops for composers and lyricists at the BMI Workshop. Upon graduation, he enrolled in the workshop shortly after Engel’s death in August 1982. Ahrens and Flaherty began working together on various projects during the following year, including a stage adaptation of the 1967 Peter Cook- Dudley Moore movie Bedazzled. However, it was 1988 before their first production, Lucky Stiff (‘A Dead Funny Musical’), opened at Playwrights Horizons, off-Broadway. This musical farce, based on Michael Butterworth’s novel, The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo, had a book and lyrics by Ahrens, and music by Flaherty. It contained several witty and amusing numbers, including ‘Nice’, ‘Welcome Back, Mr. Witherspoon’, ‘Fancy Meeting You Here’, and ‘Speaking French’, and won Helen Hayes and Richard Rogers Awards, in spite of having only a brief run. The Caribbean-style Once On This Island (1990) fared much better, delighting Broadway audiences with its melodic charms for 469 performances. When it sailed for the West End in 1994, the Royalty Theatre was renamed the Island Theatre for the duration of the run, and Once On This Island won the 1995 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical.
Not so sunny was the reception given to My Favorite Year (1992-3). It was said to be the first original musical produced by the Lincoln Center, but only stayed there for one month. Flaherty wanted to compose something indigenously American, so he and Ahrens grabbed at the opportunity to audition four songs for Ragtime, a musicalization of E.L. Doctorow’s turn-of-the-century novel. Three of those four numbers, ‘Till We Reach That Day’, ‘Gliding’, and the splendidly syncopated title song, were in the score of the show that opened at New York’s brand new Ford Center for the Performing Arts in January 1998. It became a smash hit, with Ahrens and Flaherty winning Tony Awards, as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle honours for Best Musical. Along the road to their mutual triumph, the duo has also worked separately. Ahrens wrote the book (with Mike Ockrent) and lyrics to Alan Menken’s music for the immensely popular holiday-time entertainment, A Christmas Carol, which was launched at Madison Square Garden in 1994, and has since been continually revived. Flaherty composed the incidental music for Neil Simon’s play Proposals (1997), and the concert pieces ‘Ragtime Symphonic Suite’ and ‘Anastasia Suite’ which were premiered by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The Anastasia music stems from the 20th Century-Fox animated film of that name for which Ahrens and Flaherty wrote music and lyrics.