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AWARDS: Keith Hovis = Composer of the Year

The Twin Cities is gifted with a wealth of residents who engage in generative art creation: writers, composers, painters, sculptors, choreographers, weavers, and more. With the end of 2019 approaching, the Arts Reader is recognizing several of these creators who stand out from the pack. The Arts Reader’s 2019 Composer of the Year is musical theatre writer Keith Hovis.

Like many artists, Hovis wears different hats according to the need and time of day. During weekday, daylight hours, he is the Director of Communications for the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. On nights and weekends, he is a prolific songwriter with multiple musicals under his belt. If a triple-threat actor is defined by singing, dancing, and acting well, Hovis is a triple-threat stage musical writer. When he sits down, music, lyrics, and the script (the “book” in musical theatre lingo) all flow from his pen.

Composer-librettist Keith Hovis.

Hovis’ gift for musical storytelling has been a hit with critics and audiences alike. As Jay Gabler of City Pages and The Current noted, “When you go to a Keith Hovis show, you know you’re going to bask in the sheer joy of live performance, at once totally zany and completely heartfelt.”

Heartfelt, perhaps, but also usually felt in another body part as well. During a performance of his musical Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant, which played at Park Square Theatre this past summer, an audience member shouted her thoughts to her companion during the applause for a hilariously demented trio entitled “Psychological Warfare”. “I can’t–” she yelled. “My stomach hurts from laughing so much!”

His work also earns rave reviews from collaborators. Nissa Nordland Morgan, who worked with Hovis on original music for the Fortune’s Fool Theatre production of The Skirker, said “Keith is an amazing collaborator who plays to the strengths of his artists while maintaining his vision…he used my ability to play clarinet and his experience with sax, and created a woodwind duet that I still adore. Keith’s work is unique and truly Keith, a blend of comedy, darkness, and musical edge.”

This distinctive writing voice has struck a chord that inspires both regular and nontraditional audiences, many of whom eagerly await news of a new public reading or cafe concert. “Keith Hovis,” Gabler noted, “has a genuine passion for musical theater; artists and audience members who share that passion appreciate his rare gift for combining complex songcraft and fun-loving irreverence.”

For all these reasons and more, we name Keith Hovis the Twin Cities Arts Reader’s 2019 Composer of the Year.

Hanne Appelbaum