Kleban was born in the Bronx, New York in 1939 and graduated from New York's High School of Music & Art and Columbia University, where he attended with future playwright Terrance McNally. Kleban is best known as lyricist of the Broadway hit A Chorus Line. He and composer Marvin Hamlisch won the 1976 Tony Award for Best Original Score, and he shared the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976 with Hamlisch and three other contributors to the musical. The one-woman Phyllis Newman show, The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979), featured a few tunes with his lyrics. For several years he worked at Columbia Records, where he produced albums by performers as diverse as Igor Stravinsky and Percy Faith and the album for the Off-Broadway musical Now Is The Time For All Good Men. He was a teacher for many years at the BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Musical Theater Workshop.
In his will, Kleban established the Kleban Foundation, which grants the annual Kleban Prize in Musical Theatre. The prize is given in the amount of $100,000, paid over two years, to the most promising librettist and lyricist in American musical theatre. The awards are administered by BMI in association with New Dramatists and ASCAP. The prize has been given to 63 musical theatre artists over the past 27 years, awarding a total of around $5,000,000. Notable Kleban Prize winners include Jason Robert Brown, Steven Lutvak, John Bucchino, Robert Lopez, Sam Willmott, John Weidman, and Robert L. Friedman. The most recent winners of the prize were Daniel Zaitchik and Lisa Kron, in February 2017.
Kleban Prize Winners:
|2018||Alan Schmuckler / Amanda Yesnowitz (TIE)||Christian Duhamel||Marin Mazzie, Dave Malloy, Laurence Masion|
|2017||Daniel Zaitchik||Lisa Kron||Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Mary Testa, Ira Weitzman|
|2016||Stacey Luftig||Daniel Goldstein||Judith Ivey, Michael Price, Andrew Zerman|
|2015||Sam Willmott||Sam Carner||Kerry Butler, Wiley Hausam, David Shire|
|2014||Nathan Tysen||Arthur Perlman||Jason Danieley, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, Bill Rosenfield|
|2013||Daniel Maté||Alan Gordon||Sean Hartley, Henry Krieger, Michele Pawk|
|2012||Marcy Heisler||Andrew Gerle / Matt Schatz (TIE)||Marshall Brickman, Ted Chapin, Debra Monk|
|2011||Adam Gwon||Michelle Elliott||Stephen Flaherty, Michael Korie, David Zippel|
|2010||Peter Mills||Barry Wyner||Craig Carnelia, Susan Drury, Jeffrey Sweet|
|2009||Beth Falcone||Kait Kerrigan||Sheldon Harnick, Thomas Z. Shepard, Sherman Yellen|
|2008||David Lindsay-Abaire||Laura Harrington / Bill Solly and Donald Ward (TIE)||Beth Blickers, Linda Kline, Gilbert Parker|
|2007||Joe Iconis||Jeremy Desmon||Rick Elice, Carol Hall, Charles Kopelman|
|2006||Alison Louise Hubbard / Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak (TIE)||Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman||Cheryl L. Davis, Susan Drury, Ken Stone|
|2005||David Javerbaum||Cheryl L. David and Ken Stone (TIE)||Julia Jordan, Michael John LaChiusa, Jeffrey Sweet|
|2004||Laurence O'Keefe||Julia Jordan||Susan DiLallo, Bill Goldstein, Lonnie Price|
|2003||Nell Benjamin||Susan Dilallo||Arthur Kopit, Charles Leipart, Frank Wildhorn|
|2002||Jason Robert Brown||Lori McKelvey||Jerome Coopersmith, Marvin Hamlisch, Marsha Norman|
|2001||John Bucchino and Patrick Cook||Charles Leipart||Nan Knighton, Michael John LaChiusa, Glenn Slater|
|2000||Marion Adler, Chad Beguelin, Robert Lopez / Jeff Marx and David Spencer (TIE)||Stephen Cole||Fred Ebb, Henry Kriegler, William Russell|
|1999||Kirsten Childs||Michael John LaChiusa||Lynn Ahrens, John Jiler, John Kander|
|1998||Sarah Schlesinger||Lissa Levin / Luis Santiero (TIE)||Ellen Fitzhugh, John Morris, John Weidman|
|1997||Michael Korie||Brian Crawley||Martin Charnin, James Freydberg, David Shire|
|1996||Glenn Slater||John Weidman||Carol Hall, William Finn, Jonathan Tunick|
|1995||Mark Waldrop||John Jiler||Sheldon Harnick, Charles Strouse, Wendy Wasserstein|
|1994||Joe Keenan / Jim Morgan (TIE)||William Strzempek||Susan Birkenhead, Craig Carnelia, Jack Viertel|
|1993||Barry Kleinbort||Lanie Robertson||Jerry Bock, Betty Comdon, Gretchen Cryer|
|1992||Craig Carnelia||Lee Adams, Mary Rodgers, Stephen Schwartz|
|1991||Mark Campbell||Gretchen Cryer||Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim, Joseph Stein|
His will also granted rights to his collection of unpublished songs to friends Avery Corman and Wendy Wasserstein with the request that they incorporate them into a new musical. Their attempts failed and the rights reverted to Kleban's longtime companion, librettist Linda Kline. Kline sought someone who did not know or work with Kleban, but who would learn about him through the material. She admired previous work of Lonny Price and sought him as a collaborator.
After six years of work, with Price and Kline as co-authors, Price directed and played the role of Ed in A Class Act, a musical biography of Kleban with a score consisting of songs he wrote for numerous unproduced musicals. After a two-month run at the Manhattan Theatre Club, it transferred to the Ambassador Theatre on March 10, 2001 and ran for three additional months. Almost 14 years after his death, Kleban earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Original Score and Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics.