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By Brian Robin

Craig Lucas’ Path to Prominence

The celebrated Stephen Sondheim put Craig Lucas on his path to becoming one of today’s seminal playwrights.

Lucas left Boston University with a BA in Theatre and Creative Writing in 1973. But even with his mentor, noted confessional poet Anne Sexton, telling him he needed to move to New York and write plays, Lucas continued to act. He performed in Broadway musicals such as ShenandoahOn the Twentieth CenturyRex and Sweeney Todd, while working day jobs around New York City.

After watching Lucas in Sweeney Todd, and reading his first produced work—Marry Me a Little, a revue based on Sondheim musicals—the legendary composer and lyricist told Lucas he was a better writer than actor.

Once again, Sondheim didn’t miss a beat. Lucas became the award-winning writer of such works as Prelude to a KissBlue WindowThe Light in the Piazza and Reckless, all of which have been produced at SCR. Both Prelude to a Kiss and The Light in the Piazza received Tony Award nominations. Prelude to a Kiss made its world premiere at SCR in 1988, went to Broadway and Hollywood and earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

All told, SCR produced six Lucas works. Prelude to a Kiss, The Musical will be the seventh. Directed by SCR Artistic Director David Ivers, the centerpiece to SCR’s 60th season runs April 5-May 4 on the Segerstrom Stage.

You could say that Lucas’ skillful eye at capturing the absurdities of life and the fickleness of fate came about through his arrival into the world. As a baby, he was found abandoned in a car in Atlanta, with a note from his mother explaining she could not care for her child. Eight months later, Lucas was adopted by a conservative couple from suburban Philadelphia. His father worked for the FBI, his mother was a painter who encouraged Lucas’ love for acting, singing and writing.

After Lucas switched from acting to full-time playwriting, his legacy grew—and with it came a relationship with South Coast Repertory. Lucas made his SCR debut in 1985 with Reckless, a play that would become a 1995 movie—and Lucas’ third screenwriting credit, following Longtime Companion (1990) and Prelude to a Kiss (1992). Blue Window received the George and Elizabeth Marton Award for Best New Play of 1984. It made its West Coast premiere at SCR in 1985. Three Postcards premiered at SCR in 1987. Prelude to a Kiss and Marry Me a Little followed in 1988, running virtually simultaneously on both SCR stages in the winter and early spring.

Lucas also wrote God’s Heart (1997), The Singing Forest (2004), Small Tragedy (2004), for which he received an Obie Award for Best American Play, Prayer for My Enemy (2007), Paradise Square (2012), which received a 2022 Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, An American in Paris (2014), which also received a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, and Amélie (2015). Days of Wine and Roses (2023) had a successful run off Broadway earlier this year, and began previews on Broadway this past Saturday. As a stage director, Lucas received an Obie Award in 2001 for his work on Saved or Destroyed by Harry Kondoleon.

Along the way, Lucas directed two screenplays: The Dying Gaul (2005)—which he also wrote—and Birds of America (2008). He won the 2003 New York Film Critics Award for Best Screenplay for The Secret Life of Dentists. He received the Excellence in Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award and awards from Outer Critics Circle, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, Drama Logue and Lambda Literary Awards.

He continues to be one of the most in-demand writers in the country. His versatility and skill working with lyricists and composers puts Lucas atop the wish lists of producers wanting to adapt a play into a musical.

Get ahead of the crowd for Prelude to a Kiss, The Musical, which promises to be a can’t-miss theatrical event and a most fitting way to celebrate SCR’s 60th Season.

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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