Jeanine Tesori (born November 10, 1961, known earlier in her career as Jeanine Levenson) is an American composer and musical arranger. She is the most prolific and honored female theatrical composer in history, with five Broadway musicals and five Tony Award nominations. She won the 1999 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music in a Play for Nicholas Hytner's production of Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center, the 2004 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music for Caroline, or Change, and the 2015 Tony Award for Best Original Score for Fun Home (shared with Lisa Kron), making them the first female writing team to win that award. She was named Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist twice for Fun Home and Soft Power.
Early life and education
The first Off-Broadway production she saw was Godspell at the Promenade when she was fourteen. She said of the experience that she felt the sense that "I'm someplace where there's something happening, and I don't want to be anywhere else."
Tesori made her Broadway debut when she arranged the dance music for the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In 1997 she composed the score for the Off-Broadway musical Violet, for which she won an Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, and arranged the music for the Johnny Mercer revue Dream, which she repeated with the 1998 revival of The Sound of Music and the 1999 revue Swing! She also served as associate conductor for the Broadway productions of The Secret Garden and The Who's Tommy.
In 2000, Tesori joined forces with lyricist Dick Scanlan to write eleven new songs for a stage adaptation of Thoroughly Modern Millie. A successful run at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego resulted in a transfer to Broadway in 2002, and Tesori was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Original Score and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music.
Tesori has collaborated with Tony Kushner three times. In 2004 she supplied music for the sung-through musical Caroline, or Change, which garnered her a second Tony nomination for Best Original Score. In 2006 she wrote incidental music for Kushner's new translation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, which was produced as part of the 2006 Shakespeare in the Park season staged at the Delacorte Theater by The Public Theater. In the summer of 2011 their opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck premiered at Glimmerglass.
Tesori has composed music for the films Nights in Rodanthe, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning, Shrek the Third, Mulan II, and The Emperor's New Groove 2: Kronk's New Groove.
In 2011, she wrote the music to Fun Home with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, and based on the memoir by Alison Bechdel. The show was overseen by Philip Himberg while being workshopped at the Sundance Institute's 2011 Theatre Lab at White Oaks Lab in Yulee, Florida. It was previously developed during the 2009 Ojai Playwrights Conference. It opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on October 17, 2013 and sold out through November 4, 2013, with numerous extensions until it closed there on January 12, 2014. Here, it also won the 2014 Obie Award for Musical Theatre. Following the successful Off-Broadway run it transferred to Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre, with previews beginning on March 27, 2015 and an official opening on April 19, 2015. Tesori and Kron won the Tony Award for Best Musical for Fun Home, marking the first time an all female composing team won. The musical was named 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist.
Tesori was the artistic director of a concert series of Off-Broadway musicals, "Encores! Off-Center". The season, in July 2013, included The Cradle Will Rock, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, and Violet. Her opera, The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me, had its premiere with the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in December 2013. The libretto is by J. D. McClatchy, based on the children's book by Jeanette Winterson and was directed by Francesca Zambello.
With book and lyrics by David Henry Hwang, Tesori's new musical, Soft Power, began performances at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, in May 2018 and at San Francisco's Curran Theatre in June. The musical opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on September 14, 2019, directed by Leigh Silverman. The musical was named 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist.
In July 2019, she premiered her opera Blue (libretto: Tazewell Thompson) at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. The opera picks up the issue of African American boys having become a prime target of police brutality in the United States.
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- Kalb, Jonathan. "Still Fearsome, 'Mother Courage' Gets a Makeover" The New York Times, August 6, 2006
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- Hetrick, Adam. "Sundance Will Shape Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron Musical, Plus Works by Debate Society, Aaron Jafferis, Byron Au Yong" Archived 2013-11-01 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, September 9, 2011
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- Smith, Tim. "New family opera for Christmas from Washington National Opera" Baltimore Sun, December 19, 2013
- Franklin, Marc J. "A Sneak Peek at the World Premiere of David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori's Soft Power", Playbill, April 13, 2018
- Lefkowitz, Andy. "Jeanine Tesori & David Henry Hwang's New Musical Soft Power Gets Extension at Public Theater" broadway.com, September 6, 2019
- "Finalist: Soft Power, by David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori".
- Means, Richard (November 2018). "Jeanine Tesori". Current Biography. 79 (11): 72–75.