Rhodes College’s McCoy Theatre will present “A Celebration of Jeanine Tesori” April 16, featuring Rhodes students and community members performing songs by award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori. The virtual showcase, premiering at 7:30 p.m. CST at Rhodes.edu/tesori and on the Rhodes YouTube channel, is directed by Joy Brooke Fairfield, assistant professor of theatre at Rhodes. Local musician and theatre artist Eileen Kuo serves as music director.
“This production was planned last year as part of McCoy Theatre’s commitment to Jubilee 2020, a national programming vision supported by American Theatre magazine and Howlround Theatre Commons,” says Fairfield. “Theatre producers were invited to commit to uplifting work created by women, BIPOC artists, people with disabilities, and other marginalized people during the 2020-2021 season. While the grandeur of this movement might have been reduced due to the unanticipated closure of our theatres during the pandemic, the spirit of the initiative lives on, and the McCoy is happy to stand alongside hundreds of other arts-producing organizations, from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, to The University of Memphis locally, in celebrating Jubilee 2020.”
The Rhodes showcase will include multiple songs from Tesori’s major works including Fun Home; Caroline, or Change; and Thoroughly Modern Millie as well as excerpts from Shrek: The Musical; Violet; and Soft Power, which is Tesori’s newest piece for musical theatre. Arranged in a dramatic arc from opening number to closing finale, the songs are interspersed with brief synopses to help the audience appreciate how each unique piece fits together into a larger whole.
“We’ll also feature a stand-alone art song of hers called ‘The Girl in 14G’ that comments wryly on the musical theatre genre itself as a playful mash-up of prior vocal forms,” says Fairfield.
The cast for this production includes Rhodes students Annabelle Babbitt ’24, Rachel Bates ’23, Amirah Bauder ’24, Olivia Fox ’21, Emily Haas ’22, Mya Hardee ’24, Jaden Henderson ’22, Rohan Kaza ’21, Eliza Lieberman ’21, Annalee McConnell ’22, Eliana Mabe ’23, Riley Marzola ’23, Caroline Mukerjee ’24, Cooper Rudolph ’21, Eva Marie Spencer ’24, Rebecca Winchester ’22, Georgia Winkler ’23, Madeleine Wright ’21, and Yifei Zhang ’21. Special guests are Raina Williams of The University of Memphis and Marcus King of Opera Memphis.
“It will also feature, via archival video, a song by Rhodes alumna Jenny Kathryn Wilson ’18, who passed away in 2020 and whose memory lives on in our hearts,” says Fairfield.The performance is stage managed by Laura Perkins, with technical and creative design by Keenan Minogue and James Oliver.
“A Celebration of Jeanine Tesori” has been rehearsed remotely and filmed primarily in McNeill Concert Hall, according to strict health protocols.
“Rehearsing remotely has been a completely new experience. I’m so grateful for the dedication of our music director, Eileen Kuo, and for the resilience of our singers, finding space to sing full-throatedly despite pandemic, storm, and water crises,” says Fairfield. “It’s been a great experience to work with this majority-woman cast in March during Women’s History Month. Tesori does a great job with characters of all genders, but she truly shines at composing for complex female characters coming into their own power, whether it's through finding their sexuality, getting a new job, or finally leaving the castle tower they were trapped in.”