Cincinnati natives and renowned Broadway professionals Jessica Hendy and Richard Oberacker have joined forces to create Hendy’s first full-length narrative book-musical, With Beckett. Jessica Hendy has been passionate about performing since before she can remember. The westside native’s mother fondly recalls a young Jessica sobbing in her bedroom for seemingly no reason. When asked what was wrong, the little girl looked up to her mom and said, “I just have to act, mom.”
Although Hendy does not remember this equally adorable and embarrassing anecdote, she is certain that performing has always been her calling. During her adolescent years, Hendy, then a student of St. Ursula Academy, spent countless hours on the stage of St. Xavier High School’s theater department since her school did not have its own theater program.
During her free time, she also immersed herself into community theater programs and appeared in a production of Baby during her junior year of high school. It was in this show, when she was just 16 years old, that Hendy was first introduced to renowned composer Richard Oberacker. Now, the two have joined forces to bring Hendy’s passion project With Beckett to life.
“I sent the script to my good friend Richard Oberacker, who has written several shows, and I asked him if he could write just one song,” Hendy says. “Two months later, he wrote me back and he was like ‘I want to write an entire score for you,’ and I was floored because that was secretly everything I always wanted.”
After meeting through the local production of Baby, Hendy and Oberacker both attended the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. After graduation, Hendy packed everything up and moved to New York City with dreams to make it big on Broadway. Today, she is most well-known for her role as Grizabella in both the original run of CATS and its 2016 revival.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Hendy was terrified of how it would impact her life, both personally and professionally. When Broadway completely shut down during the same month, she was left without a job and unsure of what her next step would be. “It’s been really scary to know that my life work, my career, has stopped,” Hendy says. “But if there’s one thing I’ve learned being in show business, it’s that you have to have persistence. You have to believe even when there’s no belief to be had.”
It was this optimistic silver lining that encouraged Hendy to finally bring With Beckett to life—a project that has been in the works for years. Inspired by her memoir, this one-woman show pays homage to Hendy’s life as a single mother raising her son Beckett. The goal is to have an entire show ready to be performed when social gatherings are safe.
Though this musical heavily reflects Hendy’s own personal experiences, she recognizes the collaborative efforts that helped bring it to life. In addition to her collaboration with Oberacker, Hendy also worked with seasoned Broadway connaisseurs Robert Taylor, Julie McBride, Richard Hess, and Mark Owens, even despite being located in different cities and restricted to stay-at-home orders. “We went online and we Zoomed and Facetimed and Skyped almost every day,” Hendy says. “We just kept trotting forward and quickly found a way to continue writing and continue pushing the show forward.”
Through With Beckett, Hendy hopes to portray how she overcame struggles related to single parenting and also show her son how to live by her example. “Everyone has their struggles, we all have our shit, we all have the things in our lives that we have to get through. Mine isn’t special; mine is just mine. But, my goal is to show that we have choices and we can either be stuck in the trauma that happens in our lives, or we can work through it to better days and show the people in our life, namely my son, how to live your best life,” she says.
Already, Lynn Meyers, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, has shown interest in producing With Beckett. Meyers and the Ensemble Theatre’s board members have seen a virtual reading of the show and intend on working with Hendy to develop the show into a place that is ready for full production.
Since this cannot be accomplished until the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a threat to the community, Hendy and her team are currently working on producing a studio concept album of the show. This album is intended to incite excitement about not only With Beckett, but for the arts as a whole.
“Without the arts, we lost a whole section of our culture as a society,” Hendy says. “Without the arts, we don’t have beauty. Beauty can come in all different forms; it can come through a dramatic painting, a hilarious sitcom on TV, a soulful jazz quartet. But, all of these things add into the collective arts that we need as a society to be well-rounded humans.”