Molly Jessup, Trusted Music Director in Kansas City, Dead at 66

Obituaries   Molly Jessup, Trusted Music Director in Kansas City, Dead at 66
Molly Jessup, recognized as the leading music director in the Kansas City theatre community, whose career included working on new musicals with major American theatre composers, conducting local shows and teaching voice students, died March 15 after a battle with cancer.
Molly Jessup
Molly Jessup

Ms. Jessup was a Kansas City native and lifelong area artist who, though occasionally working elsewhere in a long career, made Missouri and Kansas her artistic home.

She received her B.A. in Music at University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) in 1966 and pursued her Masters degree in vocal performance there in the 1970s. Ms. Jessup was the resident music director and teacher of applied voice in the Music Theatre program at the UMKC Conservatory. She was also an Adjunct Professor of Graduate Theater Studies at UMKC, teaching voice and music theatre to students working toward their MFA degrees.

She served as musical director for every professional theatre in the Kansas City area: Dinner Theatre, Inc. at the Waldo Astoria, Tiffany's Attic, Starlight Theatre, Coterie Theatre, Kansas City Repertory Theatre (where she wore a bonnet and music-directed carolers for 23 seasons with A Christmas Carol), Unicorn Theatre, American Heartland Theatre and Quality Hill Playhouse.

If you had a notion to sing a benefit concert or create a cabaret show, Ms. Jessup was the must-have ingredient, friends said.

Donna Thomason of Starlight Theatre, told, "She possessed the most abundant spirit…our community has lost the center of the wheel — that which held us together with even, measured steadiness." Ms. Jessup's final credit was music director of the current Winesburg, Ohio at Kansas City Rep.

At Coterie, the local professional youth theatre, she was the trusted music director of new musical projects by Stephen Schwartz (Geppetto & Son), Harry Connick Jr. (The Happy Elf) Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and others.

Coterie producing artistic director Jeff Church told, "The Coterie is home to what we call our Lab For New Family Musicals, and Molly was a major part of my team that would help Broadway creative teams find their way into family theatre/theatre for young audiences. With musicals, Molly was rigorous. We all benefited from her exacting musical direction which she doled out with ample portions of good spirit. She concentrated on the work, and she was the rock of all the musicals we worked on and developed with great teams. There are endless stories about Molly that are fun to remember, from hysterical audition stories to triumphant opening nights."

Flaherty told on March 16, "I was so sorry to hear of her passing. I was fortunate to have had Molly music direct three of my shows at the Coterie Theatre — the TYA version of Seussical (which premiered at the Coterie), Twice Upon a Time (a pairing of Lynn's and my first show, the children's musical The Emperor's New Clothes with Dr. Seuss' The Lorax) and the TYA version of Once On This Island.

"During the rehearsals last summer for Once On This Island, artistic director Jeff Church had told me that through all of Molly's health challenges and treatments she literally never missed a beat. That's the ultimate testament to her as both a musician and a person.

"Molly was meticulous and treated my music with such respect, care and attention to detail and for that I am grateful."

Nationally, Ms. Jessup conducted productions at North Shore Music Theatre, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Casa Manana, the St. Louis Muny Opera and at the Kennedy Center. She also toured with the national tour of Les Misérables.

Ms. Jessup is survived by her husband George H. Austin (Raytown, MO), her children Bruce Jessup (Seattle, WA) and Jill Webster (Overland Park, KS), her brother Bruce Shirk (Washington DC), her grandchildren J.D. Sutton, Whitney Sutton, and Ava Oakley-Jessup, numerous cousins, and a vast community of loving and devoted friends.

A memorial service will be March 19 at 11 AM at All Souls Unitarian Church, 4501 Walnut, Kansas City, MO.

The family suggests contributions to The Molly Jessup Arts Education Fund, c/o Bank of America, 10017 East 63rd Street, Raytown, MO. 64133.

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