Jump to content

Jeanine Tesori

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jeanine Tesori
Tesori at the 76th Tony Awards in 2023
Born (1961-11-10) November 10, 1961 (age 62)
EducationColumbia University (BA)
Musical career
GenresMusical Theatre
Occupation(s)Composer, Musical Arranger
Years active1995–present

Jeanine Tesori, known earlier in her career as Jeanine Levenson,[1] (born November 10, 1961)[1] is an American composer and musical arranger best known for her work in the theater. She is the most prolific and honored female theatrical composer in history, with five Broadway musicals and six Tony Award nominations.[2] 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, 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, and the 2023 Tony Award for Best Original Score for Kimberly Akimbo (shared with David Lindsay-Abaire).[3] She was named a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist twice for Fun Home and Soft Power.

Her major works include Kimberly Akimbo; Fun Home; Caroline, or Change; Shrek The Musical; Thoroughly Modern Millie; and Violet.

Early life and education[edit]

Tesori saw her first Off-Broadway production, Godspell at the Promenade, when she was fourteen. She said of the experience that she felt the sense of "I'm someplace where there's something happening, and I don't want to be anywhere else."[4]

She attended Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York. She is a graduate of Barnard College of Columbia University,[5][6] where she initially was pre-med but changed her major to music.[7]


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,[8] 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 four times. In 2004 she supplied music for the sung-through musical Caroline, or Change, which garnered her a third 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.[9] In the summer of 2011, their opera A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck premiered at Glimmerglass. In 2019, Tesori was credited as voice coach on the new Steven Spielberg film of West Side Story for which Kushner wrote the screenplay based largely on the original stage musical. Filmed over two months in and around New York City, the film saw its 2020 release rescheduled to December 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Tesori wrote the music for Shrek The Musical, which opened on Broadway in 2008 and for which she earned both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for her music.[10]

In 2011, she wrote the music to Fun Home with a book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, a musical 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.[11] Fun Home 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.[12] Here, it also won the 2014 Obie Award for Musical Theatre.[13] Following the successful Off-Broadway run, the show 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 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score for Fun Home, marking the first time an all-female composing team won either category. The musical was named a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist.[14]

Tesori was the artistic director of a concert series of Off-Broadway musicals, "Encores! Off-Center". The July 2013 season included The Cradle Will Rock, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road,[15] and Violet.[4][16] It was also in this role that Tesori recruited Jake Gyllenhaal to play Seymour in the 2015 Encores! production of Little Shop of Horrors.[17]

Tesori's opera The Lion, The Unicorn, and Me premiered 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.[18]

The English version of three songs in the 2016 Tokyo DisneySea stage show Out of Shadowland were written by Tesori. They were sung in Japanese by pop singer Angela Aki.[19]

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.[20] The musical opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater on September 14, 2019, directed by Leigh Silverman.[21] The musical was named a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist.[22]

In July 2019, she premiered her opera Blue, with libretto by Tazewell Thompson, at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. The opera concerns the issue of African American boys having become a prime target of police brutality in the United States.[23]

In December 2021, her new musical, Kimberly Akimbo, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire opened at the Linda Gross Theater in Manhattan. It won Best Musical at the Drama Desk Awards, Lucille Lortel Awards, and Outer Critics Circle Awards. It transferred to Broadway in fall 2022, with previews beginning on October 12, and an official opening on November 10. She and Lindsay-Abaire won the Tony Award for Best Original Score (making Tesori the first female composer to win that award twice)[24] and the show itself won Best Musical.[25]

In October 2023, Tesori's new opera Grounded opened at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.[26][27] The Kennedy Center's publicity summarizes the opera as "Jess is a hot shot F-16 fighter pilot, an elite warrior trained for the sky. When an unexpected pregnancy grounds her, she’s reassigned to the “chair force” to control drones in Afghanistan from the comfort of a trailer in Las Vegas. Mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo stars as a pilot and mother shaken into a downward spiral as her separation between career and home crumbles. What price is inflicted upon the operator of a lone drone in a blue sky?" The libretto is by George Brant, based on his play. The premier is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera who originally commissioned the piece, and it will start their 2024-2025 season.

Personal life[edit]

She lives with her child, Siena, in Manhattan. Tesori is divorced from Siena’s father, Michael Rafter, an arranger and conductor.[5]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Tony Awards[edit]

Year Award Show Result
1999 Best Original Score Twelfth Night Nominated
2002 Best Original Score (with Dick Scanlan) Thoroughly Modern Millie Nominated
2004 Best Original Score (with Tony Kushner) Caroline, or Change Nominated
2009 Best Original Score (with David Lindsay-Abaire) Shrek the Musical Nominated
2015 Best Original Score (with Lisa Kron) Fun Home Won
2023 Best Original Score (with David Lindsay-Abaire) Kimberly Akimbo Won

Drama Desk Awards[edit]

Year Award Show Result
1997 Outstanding Music Violet Nominated
1999 Outstanding Music In A Play Twelfth Night Won
2002 Outstanding Music Thoroughly Modern Millie Nominated
2004 Caroline, or Change Won
2009 Shrek the Musical Nominated
2014 Fun Home Nominated
2020 Soft Power Nominated
2022 Kimberly Akimbo Nominated

Pulitzer Prize for Drama[edit]

Year Show Result
2014 Fun Home (with Lisa Kron) Finalist
2020 Soft Power (with David Henry Hwang) Finalist


  1. ^ a b "Jeanine Tesori". Masterworks Broadway. Retrieved 2010-03-29.
  2. ^ "Awards and nominations" ibdb.com, accessed August 28, 2016
  3. ^ Kennedy, Mark (2015-06-07). "'Fun Home' songwriters become 1st winning female team". Yahoo News. Archived from the original on 2016-02-02.
  4. ^ a b Vellucci, Michelle (2013-07-12). "The Now and the Then: Jeanine Tesori Brings Off-Broadway to City Center Encores!". Playbill. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  5. ^ a b "Biography - Jeanine Tesori". American Theatre Wing. December 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-01-30.
  6. ^ Rosenberg, Merri (2013-12-19). "Music to Her Ears". Barnard College. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  7. ^ Heyman, Marshall (2008-11-30). "Shrek's Theater Queen". W Magazine. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  8. ^ "Jeanine Tesori". Internet Off-Broadway Database. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  9. ^ Kalb, Jonathan (2006-08-06). "Still Fearsome, Mother Courage Gets a Makeover". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  10. ^ Gans, Andrew; Jones, Kenneth (2009-05-05). "Nominations for 2009 Tony Awards Announced; Billy Elliot Earns 15 Nominations". Playbill. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  11. ^ Hetrick, Adam (2011-09-09). "Sundance Will Shape Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron Musical, Plus Works by Debate Society, Aaron Jafferis, Byron Au Yong". Playbill. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  12. ^ Hetrick, Adam (2012-10-17). "Jeanine Tesori-Lisa Kron Musical Fun Home, With Judy Kuhn, Begins Public Run Oct. 17". Playbill. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  13. ^ "2014". Obie Awards. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  14. ^ "Finalist: Fun Home, by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori". Pulitzer.org.
  15. ^ Suskin, Steven (2013-07-25). "Encores! Scores With I'm Getting My Act Together". Playbill. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  16. ^ Hetrick, Adam (2013-04-04). "Encores! Off-Center Series Will Launch With Sutton Foster in Violet; Jeanine Tesori Named Artistic Director". Playbill. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  17. ^ Gyllenhaal, Jake (18 Jul 2015). "Jake Gyllenhaal talks Little Shop of Horrors -- singing and "playing against type"". Ovation (Interview). Interviewed by David Poland. YouTube. Retrieved 18 Mar 2023.
  18. ^ Smith, Tim (2013-12-19). "New family opera for Christmas from Washington National Opera". The Baltimore Sun.
  19. ^ Explorer, T. D. R. (2016-07-08). "Out of Shadowland Review at Tokyo DisneySea". TDR Explorer. Retrieved 2024-06-17.
  20. ^ Franklin, Marc J. (2018-04-13). "A Sneak Peek at the World Premiere of David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori's Soft Power". Playbill.
  21. ^ Lefkotwitz, Andy (2019-09-06). "Jeanine Tesori & David Henry Hwang's New Musical Soft Power Gets Extension at Public Theater". Broadway.com.
  22. ^ "Finalist: Soft Power, by David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori". Pulitzer.org.
  23. ^ "The Glimmerglass Festival to Premiere 'Blue' by Jeanine Tesori and Tazewell Thompson in 2019". The Glimmerglass Festival. 2018-06-22.
  24. ^ Huston, Caitlin (June 11, 2023). "Tony Awards 2023: 'Kimberly Akimbo' Wins Big as Winners Praise Writers". The Hollywood Reporter.
  25. ^ "Kimberly Akimbo Wins Best Musical at 2023 Tony Awards". Playbill. 2023-06-11.
  26. ^ "Grounded | Kennedy Center". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved 2023-03-31.
  27. ^ Salazar, Francisco (2023-03-12). "Emily d'Angelo, Isabel Leonard & Justin Austin Lead Washington National Opera's 2023-24 Season". OperaWire. Retrieved 2023-03-31.

Further reading[edit]

  • Means, Richard (November 2018). "Jeanine Tesori". Current Biography. 79 (11): 72–75.

External links[edit]