Patti McKenny, a longtime lyricist, librettist, playwright, and advocate for new musicals in Chicago, died of a heart ailment on June 28. She was 57.
A native of Dayton, Ohio (where she co-founded the Summer Youth Theatre Company), McKenny earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in oral interpretation at Northwestern University, and wrote her first play there, Chatauqua. But musical theater took pride of place in her career. She co-founded the Chicago Musical Theatre Works and collaborated with fellow NU alum Doug Frew on several projects. She and Frew wrote the lyrics for Northlight’s 2007 frontier version of She Stoops to Conquer, receiving an After Dark Award along with composer Andrew Hansen.
Mckenny and Frew’s musical with composer Daniel Sticco, 90 North, was recognized as the Outstanding New Musical of 1997 by ASCAP. Their piece with composer Linda Eisenstein, Becoming George (based on the life and work of George Sand), was developed through the Kennedy Center’s Pages to Stages program and premiered in 2006 at Metro Stage in Alexandria, Virginia. McKenny and Frew also worked with David Roe for three seasons on Garrison Keillor’s NPR stalwart, A Prairie Home Companion.
McKenny wrote songs for many cabaret singers, including Kat Taylor , who, in a message distributed to Chicago Cabaret Professionals, said, “We heard her lovely, intelligent lyrics blended with the music of so many Chicago and national composers. We CCP members received her tireless efforts on our behalf: be it venue, advice, or support.”
At her death, McKenny had just finished a draft of a play about the goddess Psyche . A date for a memorial service hasn’t yet been set.