“THE FABULOUS JENNIE” Gears Up For Future Productions. Richard cameron of Theatre Chat shares and exclusive interview from Jennie’s librettist Ramon Delgado and composer Thomas Parente.
After an award-winning pre-musical production at Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University and an enthusiastically received concert reading at the famed Westminster Choir College in New Jersey The Fabulous Jennie by librettist Ramon Delgado and composer Thomas Parente is available for additional productions. The Fabulous Jennie team was also selected as one of twelve for the Dramatists Guild Boot-Camp for Self Productions.
Imaginatively based on the 19th century courtship of the parents of Winston Churchill, this lively musical fable explores the question of whether or not Jennie, the beautiful daughter of a Brooklyn finance baron, can overcome obstacles to romance and find happiness with Randolph, the philandering son of British aristocrats. The social ills of Victorian England and Randolph’s life-threatening illness further complicate Jennie’s desires. The script has been designed (with doubling) for a cast of 5 woman and 4 men, expandable to upwards of twenty or more.
In praising the musical, James Bundy, Dean of Yale School of Drama, raved: “THE FABULOUS JENNIE is an admirable piece of work, with a keen historical eye, and evocative artistry that conjures Victorian England as well as the continent. I appreciated an emphasis on characters who capture both the romance and reality of the period. The music stirs feelings of the era and locale, and also makes bold contemporary statements—it’s a score of rare ambition.”
Thomas Parente and Ramon Delgado share the important journey of “JENNIE” in an exclusive Q and A interview with Richard Cameron of Theatre Chat.
Tell us about The Fabulous Jennie and what excites you about it.
Composer Thomas Parente: “The main character, Jennie Jerome, is an extraordinary woman. She was the daughter of one of the most successful financiers in New York during the middle to late 19th century, was extremely beautiful, intelligent, and erudite. She was to become one of the most influential women in British society after marrying Randolph Churchill. It is extraordinary to note that through her associations and even extramarital affairs she was able to advance the careers of both her husband and later on – Winston, her son. I shudder to think what would have happened to the western world if this union did not take place.”
What was it like writing music for such a character?
Composer Thomas Parente: “Beautiful. In addition to the characteristics which I have mentioned above, Jenny was a great romantic. Writing music for such a passionate and powerful individual was such a privilege since I felt that I was bringing her to life through her own special sound–a great joy.”
Can you tell us a little bit about Randolph and what it was like to create music for him?
Composer Thomas Parente: “Randolph is equally an interesting character. His royal blood heritage went back centuries. He was extremely intelligent, quick witted, bitingly sarcastic and a natural parliamentarian. When Jenny and Randolph meet, he lacks ambition, a feature which was to be supplied by her in abundance. He quickly came under her spell.”
Would you care to comment about the main conflict or should I say conflicts?
Composer Thomas Parente: “There are several but a couple stand out. As we get into the play the audience quickly realizes that both families are opposed to this match–his because frankly she was an American, hers because his moderate pedigree as a British Royal was simply not high enough for her family’s lofty tastes. The specter of possible affliction of syphilis also plays an incredibly important role.”
Can you give us a little insight into the history of this show.
Composer Thomas Parente: “Interestingly, Ramon and I started writing this in the early 80s. I was forced to abandon the project for many years while I pursued my academic career. I just received my doctorate last year from Columbia University. It was so wonderful to pick it up after a few years and continue writing. I felt I understood the characters even better since so many years of life had gone by and well, I’ve been around the block so to speak, a few more times.”
What’s your favorite thing about creating The Fabulous Jennie?
Composer Thomas Parente: “Wow. That’s such a hard questions to answer. It has been such a joy to write the show and to take on the challenge of providing each character with their own unique music that expresses their personal inner world.”
What audiences would be interested in seeing The Fabulous Jennie?
Librettist Ramon Delgado: “From our experience with different audiences, there’s a wide range of ages that enjoy Jennie. The youthful love story appeals to young people. Our adult audience looked back fondly to their own early romances. Both groups laughed a lot at the awkward conflicts between the youthful characters and their parents. Because the music is so hummable and the lyrics so vivid, they seem to linger long after the final curtain. And the period costumes and dances create quite a spectacle.
What types of producing groups would find “Jennie” of interest?
Librettist Ramon Delgado: “Since Jennie was written with a flexible cast , it’s an ideal vehicle for college and university groups. Actually, the cast can easily be expanded from the five woman, four man minimum to twenty or more. Then, too, the characters have emotional depth, and are a joy for actors to explore. Our New Jersey cast found the songs exciting to sing. Regional and community groups will find the staging simple enough for a cabaret theatre or challenging enough for a theatre requiring more elaborate scenery. We also know from our New Jersey audience reactions that a sophisticated urban production should appeal to an Off Broadway producer.”
With the popularity of new musicals utilizing rock scores, why do you think a more traditional score is viable in today’s theatre?
Librettist Ramon Delgado: “Rock musicals appeal primarily to a youthful audience. We preferred to broaden the appeal of “Jennie” and get away from the pounding rhythms and repetitive chord patterns of a rock format. Our “Jennie” score is more universally melodic, it has more varied harmonies, and it’s specific to the characters and their emotional moments.”
Composer Thomas Parente: “Actually, there is a great variety of musical styles represented. I tried to imagine a style which would reveal the inner world of each character. So the Parisian street walker sings in a sultry French style from the 40s while the English prostitute has a more jazzy number. There are rags, rock tunes, romantic ballades, rousing chorus numbers and songs that border on a kind of a Poulenc/current sound. I like to think that there is a strong “leaving the theater singing” perk. I tried to create melodies that were strong enough to take away as an aural souvenir, so to speak, that just might, and this is going to sound pretentious, help the audience connect to their innermost feelings. Jennie has that capacity.”
How do you think historical characters and references from the 19th century can appeal to a 21st century audience?
Librettist Ramon Delgado: “We think it’s easy to appreciate characters from any age that share common hopes and dreams. There is a universality in Jennie’s love for Randolph as they overcome many obstacles. Also, Jennie’s Victorian era, like today’s world, was filled with social inequalities and hypocrisy. And the emphasis on personal responsibility in intimate relationships is just as relevant today as a hundred and fifty years ago.”
Composer Thomas Parente: “Conflicts involving one’s inner world, love, power, fulfillment and sex are all themes that have all-embracing appeal.”
Copies of the The Fabulous Jennie libretto and CD from the Westminster Choir College concert production are available on request from either Thomas Parente <[email protected]> or Ramon Delgado <[email protected]>
Richard Cameron of Theatre Chat thanks Thomas Parente and Ramon Delgado. Cameron’s articles have featured conversations with Tony Award winning Producer Stewart Lane, Emmy Award winning Casting Director Jeff Greenberg, multiple Broadway and TV stars and creative teams bringing arts lovers together around the world for the largest social media arts movement. Tag You’re it! Share with your communities.