Before she had Thoroughly Modern Millie or Caroline, or Change or Shrek The Musical or Tony winner Fun Home, composer Jeanine Tesori had Violet.
In autumn 1993, Tesori and writing partner Brian Crowley submitted Violet to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference (the same program to which Lin-Manuel Miranda submitted his In The Heights). The duo trekked to Connecticut with director Susan Schulman and music director Michael Rafter in the summer of 1994 to develop what became Roundabout Theater Company’s Tony-nominated musical in 2014.
The cast during development included Amanda Naughton, Michael McElroy, Christian Hoff, Cass Morgan, Melody Kay, Stephen Lee Anderson, and Brad Kane. Three years after readings at the O’Neill, the show opened Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons.
But perhaps more significant than the show that resulted from early workshops was a creative process Tesori adopted for all of her future work. “What was most important was we could rewrite and feed in rewrites immediately, and not waste time wondering if they were going to work. It's almost like a couture fitting,” she explained to the O’Neill staff years later. “You're making something and then you're putting it on the models right away, as opposed to getting very far down the line before all the seams are tight, and you have to rip them back up. I've used that model ever since I was there.”
In fact, in 2013 Tesori became the artistic director of Encores! Off-Center, the Off-Broadway offshoot of the popular Encores! series that puts nearly fully fledged musicals on the stage at New York City Center after just two weeks of rehearsal—a task built for someone who could throw material on actors like Tesori learned to do early in her career. Off-Center gave new legs to Violet when the concert version caught the eye of Roundabout Theatre Company, which decided to bring it to Broadway the very next year.
Twenty years after those initial readings, the show opened starring Sutton Foster, Joshua Henry, and Colin Donnell. Having collaborated on Millie and Shrek, the third Broadway collaboration seemed to solidify the composer and singer as a team. Post Violet, Foster starred in the Encores! Off-Center production of The Wild Party.
Tesori has since stepped down from her position at Encores! Off-Center (though she stays on as artistic adviser) to give herself more time to write. That includes the original musical within the Netflix reboot of television favorite Gilmore Girls when Tesori again collaborated with two-time Tony winner Foster (and two-time Tony winner Christian Borle) on a musical comedy.
While Foster stars on TVLand’s Younger and high kicks Off-Broadway in The New Group’s Sweet Charity, no word yet on what Tesori’s next project will be. Hopefully, it won’t take 20 years to find out.
Watch the full look back above.