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Carnelia grew up in Floral Park, New York. He was exposed to Broadway at the age of fourteen when he was inspired by the Richard Rodgers musical No Strings. He played guitar, was in a folksinging group and taught himself to play the piano. While attending Hofstra University he won the role of The Boy in off-Broadway's The Fantasticks, and dropped out of school as a sophomore. After a short stint in the production, Carnelia pursued songwriting and, later, musical theatre composition. Carnelia's songs were heard with the work of other writers in the Stephen Schwartz conceptual revue Working (1978). From there he wrote full scores, both lyrics and music, for the short-lived Broadway musical Is there life after high school? (1982), which is still performed in stock, amateur, and regional theatres. He composed lyrics and music for Three Postcards, with a book by Craig Lucas, which was staged off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons in 1987 and revived by Circle Rep in 1994. For the musical Sweet Smell of Success (2002), he teamed with composer Marvin Hamlisch with whom he also composed songs for the 2002 Nora Ephron play Imaginary Friends. Carnelia also performs in concert or cabaret, at venues such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in 2004. He has received the Johnny Mercer Award, "Emerging American Songwriter", the first annual Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Award, and the Kleban Award. He also is a mentor to young writers through the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, the Dramatists Guild Musical Theatre Fellowship and the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theatre Conference.
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