By Lauren Mink ‘09
The Opera and Musical Theatre Workshop 2009 at Georgetown College has a two-night run – with many roles double-cast – so that every student singer has a chance to star. In all the Lyric Theatre Society will perform 10 scenes from such musicals as “The Producers,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “Phantom of the Opera;” and operas including “Wuthering Heights” and “Romeo and Juliet.” But, there are two graduating seniors Music professor Heather Hunnicutt begs patrons not to miss at 7 p.m., April 8 and 9 in John L. Hill Chapel.
“Ryland Pope and Jessie Rose Pennington have been exceptional leaders and talents here and they both have musical careers ahead of them,” said Hunnicutt, Coordinator of Vocal Studies and director of these free “Op Shop” performances. With only their senior recitals to come, this will be a public bidding adieu to the LTS’s president and vice president, respectively. “You might call this their ‘swan song’ together.”
Although Ryland and Jessie will perform both evenings in various roles, Wednesday will be the last time to hear them together – with “Dunque io son” (He Loves Me?) from “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville) by Rossini. This is another chance for Ryland to shine in what is likely to be his future – opera. For Jessie, who is somewhat out of her comfort zone, it’s a last chance to share the spotlight with him. “You don’t know how special it is that they’ve crossed over a number of times to work with each other,” Hunnicutt said.
The two first worked together as Lucy and Hyde in the very first “Op Shop” performance as sophomores in the spring of 2007 in a scene from “Jekyll and Hyde” and again last spring as the mother and father in “Hansel and Gretel.” In between they were the two leads in the College Maskrafters musical production of “She Loves Me.”
Junior Cate Kilgore, who will take over as LTS president this fall, is anticipating missing their positive influence. “Two years ago, Jessie took me under her wing while we were in ‘Grease’. She made me feel at home in a place so far from home,” said Cate, who will sing the part of Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” on Thursday (April 9), the same part Jessie has the previous night. “And, I will definitely have some big shoes to fill” (when Ryland graduates).”
Here’s more on our two senior singing stars:
A Lexington native, Jessie has been taking voice lessons since age 12, dance lessons since age 3, and acting lessons since age 8. No wonder then that this triple threat has had so many lead roles at Georgetown – Luisa in “The Fantasticks,” Sandy in “Grease” and Amalia Balash in “She Loves Me.” The latter was her favorite part because it was a “romantic comedy…my favorite!”
George McGee, chairman of the Theatre & Performance Studies department, who directed her in those Maskrafter roles, said, “There are certain moments and certain actors that stay with you…and Jessie Pennington is one of those. She had a pure moment as Sandy in ‘Grease’ when she first comes on stage after Rizzo has made fun of her. I’ll never forget that.”
Some will recognize Jessie as the female lead (Allison) in Georgetown College’s first feature-length film, “Surviving Guthrie,” in which she won Best Actor at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival.
Often during her four years here, Jessie has brilliantly responded to the “command performance” invitations of President Bill Crouch – singing at events such as the annual Pawling Heritage Society dinner. Early last fall, she sang the National Anthem for former President George H. W. Bush at the dedication ceremony of the College’s fitness center in his name.
Jessie is excited about “Op Shop” because it has “stretched her voice to be more versatile.” She does not have much experience in opera, so it required a lot of concentration and work on her part. Jessie believes the audience will love the show because there are a “wide variety of scenes…comedic, dramatic, and beautiful costumes.” She is specifically excited about the song “100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man” that she will sing Wednesday night (April 8) from “Wonderful Town.” Jessie jokes that it’s “hilarious…cute and excited Dr. Hunnicutt chose it” for her.
In addition to Hunnicutt (the vocal teacher), Jessie expressed gratitude to professors George McGee and Ed Smith, and Dr. Crouch for supporting her and giving her the attention that a small school, like Georgetown, allows. “Love them all, they’re awesome!” she exclaimed.
After graduating in May, Jessie will play Laurey in “Oklahoma!”at the Woodford County Theatre and directly following that, she will be playing Jeanie in “Stephen Foster: The Musical” in Bardstown. (Area audiences will remember from past performances as “A Grand Night for Singing” at the University of Kentucky and Studio Players “Smoke on the Mountain.”)
Jessie is currently working on a country album, in which she has already cut the first single, “Best Arms.” You can have a listen at her MySpace Page, www.myspace.com/jessierosepennington. Jessie declared, “I have most definitely chosen my career path on my own.” Although, having Exile’s JP Pennington as a father supporting her 100% doesn’t hurt.
Her musical family also includes mother Suzie, who is in the music development and managing business; and her grandmother – the late Lily May Ledford – a member of the original Coon Creek Girls, the Hall of Fame bluegrass/folk group.
Jessie hopes to have more roles on stage and in film, but, she said, “country music is the best place to start and it’s where I should be in my life right now.”
Ryland is excited about the two evenings of “Op Shop” because it’s the only chance he will have to perform opera this semester. Gaining more experience on the stage is “so vital towards a career in performance,” said the Harlan native, who will also sing the part of King Arthur in a number from the musical “Camelot” on Thursday night (April 9).
His favorite moment on the Georgetown stage has been as Georg in the musical “She Loves Me.” That was a “real eye opener,” Ryland said, because it showed him how much work went into creating and running a successful show.
“Ryland’s enthusiasm is infectious ….he’s one of the nicest and most eager to learn students I’ve ever known,” said George McGee, who directed him in “She Loves Me.”
But, Ryland also loves opera – most likely his future – because it showed him “how crazy you have to be to do an opera!”
and has been doing Op Shop performances for the past three years.
Although musicals and opera are very dear to him, the people on campus are what he has loved the most during his four years. “I have to give special thanks to George McGee, Heather Hunnicutt, and my voice teacher Rebecca Miller.” He feels he owes them special thanks for opening up so many doors in world.
Although Ryland has been a stand-out for the three years of “Op Shop” performances, Hunnicutt is especially proud of Ryland for his showing at last fall’s state National Association of Teachers of Singing competition at Murray State University, when he won first place in the Senior Men category and Best Overall Performer. “I was so proud of him I thought my heart was going to beat right out of my chest!” Hunnicutt exclaimed.
Ryland, who is active with Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity and has been a member of the Student Government Association senate governing board and varsity tennis team, hopes to attend graduate school in the future. But, in the meantime he plans to sing and perform. Most importantly, he wants to keep learning about his art form. Hunnicutt said she believes that Ryland has the marketable opera singer package to get to the next level – “a beautiful, well-produced voice, excellent acting abilities, and marketable look.”
The two Opera and Musical Theatre Workshop performances are free, but there’s a $2 suggested donation for those who desire to contribute. Selections for the first half of the evening are from “Cinderella,” “The Producers” “Wuthering Heights,” “Camelot,” and “Oklahoma!” Following intermission: “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Wonderful Town,” “Romeo et Juliette” and “Phantom of the Opera.”