Jeanine Tesori Finds the Right Notes for Emotionally Complex Lives

If you’re a Broadway fan, there’s nothing quite so daunting as an original Broadway musical. Realistically, it could turn out to be a disappointment. On the other hand, it could be the next big thing. When it comes to Kimberly Akimbo, theatre goers can rejoice. This is due in part to the work of Jeanine Tesori, an icon of the musical theatre industry.

Jeanine Tesori is a composer and arranger with a thrilling résumé. She has been nominated for six Tony Awards for Best Original Score. Her nods began with Twelfth Night followed by Thoroughly Modern Millie. Millie featured eleven songs in collaboration with lyricist Dick Scanlan. Millie won six Tony Awards including Best Musical. 

Continuing the list, Jeanine’s next nomination was for Caroline, or Change written alongside book and lyrics by veteran playwright Tony Kushner. After that came Shrek the Musical, a raucous new musical based on the pop culture smash hit film from 2001. 

With book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, Shrek the Musical starred Brian d’Arcy James and Sutton Foster. As much as film to musical adaptations are a daring endeavor, Shrek was generally well-received and garnered eight Tony nominations including Best Musical. 

One of the most notable things about Shrek the Musical is that it survives as a live performance beyond its run on the stage. The Broadway production was filmed in 2013 and is available to watch on streaming platforms. The musical plays to both Shrek film fans and Broadway aficionados, an enjoyable and entertaining watch.

Jeanine’s next Broadway project was one that challenged the bounds of routine musical theatre. Fun Home spotlights some serious issues while touching on love, acceptance, loss and more. 

Fun Home made its debut ten years ago, playing its first preview on this day, September 30, 2013. 

Fun Home is a musical retelling of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel/memoir. The production premiered Off-Broadway at The Public Theatre, playing its first preview on this day, September 30th, in 2013. The limited run was extended multiple times as audiences filled the theatre night after night. Fun Home made its transfer to Broadway on March 27th, 2015 and officially opened on April 19th. 

Alison Bechdel’s memoir is a deeply personal yet relatable story. The original graphic novel is innovative in its design while being emotional and at many times, downright charming or heartbreaking. 

Fun Home is told through three separate versions of Alison: Small Alison (the childhood years), Medium Alison (the young adult years), and Alison (the adult years). As staged on Broadway, Fun Home was played in the round at Circle in the Square Theatre. It was intimate and contained as the memories of each Alison intermingled. 

The plot itself follows Alison’s coming of age journey. It centers largely around her sexuality along with truths about her father including his extramarital affairs and possible suicide. 

Jeanine’s music along with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron elevate Alison Bechdel’s source material adding a soundtrack to a tale already rich with color and light. The musical amassed twelve Tony nominations. It won five including Best Musical and Best Original Score for Jeanine. Fun Home remains a groundbreaking work. 

Jeanine’s music along with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron elevate Alison Bechdel’s source material adding a soundtrack to a tale already rich with color and light.

It makes sense that one of Jeanine’s next projects would be current Broadway hit Kimberly Akimbo. She wrote the music to score book and lyrics by Shrek collaborator David Lindsay-Abaire. Kimberly Akimbo is based on his original play which ran Off-Broadway before being adapted into a full-length musical.

Kimberly Akimbo is the story of a young girl with a rare disease that causes her to age five times faster than normal. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday – the maximum life expectancy for those with her condition – she is navigating a new school and the trials of finding new friends. All the while she’s struggling with a fractured home life and the arrival of her scheming, criminal aunt. 

Kimberly Akimbo, similar to Fun Home, began its New York tenure with a run Off-Broadway from December 2021 to January 2022. The musical was produced by the Atlantic Theater Company and won a slew of awards including the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical. The Broadway run of Kimberly Akimbo began previews on October 12th, 2022 with the official opening on November 10th, 2022.

The cast is led by Victoria Clark as Kimberly, Justin Cooley as Seth, Bonnie Milligan as Aunt Debra, and Allli Mauzey and Steven Boyer as Kim’s parents Pattie and Buddy. Stars of their caliber create a rock solid ensemble of characters with real heart.

Jeanine’s music provides the life and nuance to Kim’s story. It plays to the quirky nature of our heroine while also threading in her fear and pain. The musical is led by themes of friendship, family, connection, and living each day to its fullest. Jeanine’s music reminds us that each character is seeking something as simple as new experiences and moments with loved ones. 

Kimberly Akimbo is led by themes of friendship, family, connection, and living each day to its fullest.

Kim’s dream is to travel the world, bungee jump, jetski, swim in a waterfall in New Zealand, and she wants to do it now, before it’s too late. As much as the audience feels time ticking away for Kim, we revel in her journey, excite over newfound friendships, and watch her family begin to heal. 

Kimberly Akimbo isn’t a show about teenagers going to school, it isn’t about a dying girl, it’s about finding community and advocating for your own dreams. Kim will leave us one day (it’s the fate awaiting us all), but she’s here now. There is life to be lived now and relationships to cherish and new adventures to embark upon. So what are we waiting for? 

Jeanine Tesori’s work continues to touch audiences worldwide and teach new and important life lessons to those ready to listen to her music. Whether you’re picking up a copy of Fun Home, planning a movie night to watch Shrek the Musical, or counting down the days until Kimberly Akimbo embarks on tour and lands on a stage near you, you’re sure to find something that hits just the right notes.


Read an interview with Jeanine Tesori, David Lindsay-Abaire and Jessica Stone here.

Watch Fun Home‘s Tony performance here.

Watch Kimberly Akimbo‘s NPR Tiny Desk performance here.


Featured Photo: Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori arrive in the press room with their Tony Awards at the 69th Annual Tony Awards on June 7, 2015 in New York City. Photo CreditL John Angelillo/ UPI / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: TYPT5E

Bottom Photo: FUN HOME musical at the Circle in Square Theatre in the Broadway Theater District in Manhattan, New York City, New York. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 19+ / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2H14GJP

Tags: alison bechdel, Broadway, female composer, fun home, jeanine tesori, jessica stone, kimberly akimbo, lisa kron, musical, Off-Broadway, The Public Theatre, theatre, Tony Awards, victoria clark

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Julie Musbach began her career in Sydney, Australia and has since tackled many a career. From film and television production to theatre publicity and journalism, she has enjoyed life on set and on the red carpet. Julie has also spent time living in Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Currently residing in New York City, she fosters a passionate love for medical dramas, cheese, and a little black cat called Stevie Nyx.
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