If you’re doing something new, there is always a sense of fear or foreboding, but you’re in new ground and you have to get out your machete and cut a new path, superstar composer Jeanine Tesori explained in an interview a few years ago.
With five Broadway musicals under her belt and a bevy of awards and honors, Tesori has cut quite the path for herself. We are thrilled to have her back at Center Theatre Group for the World premiere of Soft Power at the Ahmanson Theatre May 3 – June 10, 2018.
If the fact that she took David Henry Hwang up on his invitation to compose the music for a show written by Chinese artists in the future imitating Broadway composers of the past wasn’t enough to make you think anything is possible, here are five more reasons why she inspires us to go for our dreams.
Tesori holds the most Tony Award® nominations of any female composer in history, with nominations for Twelfth Night (1993), Caroline, or Change (2003) and Thoroughly Modern Millie (2004) (which ran on Broadway concurrently, another first for a woman), and Shrek the Musical (2008). The fifth time was the charm in 2015 for Fun Home, when Tesori and Lisa Kron took the win for Best Original Score. But as a woman, the spotlight didn’t come to Tesori naturally.
I was taught to really lean backwards—to do my thing, be in the background, and not call attention to myself,Tesori recalled in an interview.
I’ve had to really go against my training to really be present.
An Honorary Gilmore Girl?
The recent reboot of Gilmore Girls featured a musical composed by Tesori. It was a whirlwind of an experience, with just four short songs (all under two and a half minutes)—the first of which was written in a week! The most exciting part for Tesori, however, took place offscreen. One of her musical idols, Carole King (who composed and sings the show’s theme song), had a cameo in the reboot.
[Gilmore Girls] creator Dan [Palladino] sent me a video of her singing one of the songs, ‘Love Revolution,’Tesori told an interviewer.
Literally, they’re going to just bury me with it. It made me so happy!
No Net Needed
At the age of 3, Tesori was able to play “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music by ear on the piano; she grew up fluent in both pop and classical music. But by the time she arrived at Barnard College, she expected to pursue a career in medicine, following in the footsteps of her parents, a doctor and a nurse. Her junior year, she switched her major to music—and never looked back. Her father wanted her to get an education degree as well; she demurred.
If you have a net you’ll probably use it,Tesori told W Magazine of the decision.
To the Lighthouse
Tesori was working as a Broadway conductor and arranger in 1992 when she felt like her career had hit a wall. She decided to do something kind of extreme about it: she moved to a lighthouse in Westport, New York for 10 months, where she committed to writing full-time. She knew she was built for this type of work, because she didn’t even check to see what channels she got on TV.
I set up a Walden for myself,she recalled in an NY1 interview. In 1997, the musical she composed at the lighthouse, Violet, premiered at Playwrights Horizons, and 17 years later, it landed on Broadway with Sutton Foster in the lead role.
I try to give as much time as possible, as people gave to me. You have to look backwards and give people a hand up. I don’t understand not doing it,Tesori has said in Harper's Baazar, where she explained the importance of giving young women mentorship and opportunities. One way she gives is as Creative Director of A BroaderWay Foundation, an arts empowerment program for girls from urban communities that was co-founded by Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs.