Music and Lyrics.
Rhonda Kess started her musical career as a Conductor/Pianist, conducting opera and musical theater in the States and the UK. Specializing in contemporary opera and Musical Theater, Miss Kess founded the Music Theater Company The New Music Settings Ensemble, which specialized in contemporary and 20th century staged works. Specializing in the American musicals of Kurt Weill, Miss Kess was the Music Director for the new concert version of Johnny Johnson, with a new text by Tony Kushner, which was first performed at Merkin Hall. Rhonda went on to conduct this version in Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, making this the British premiere of Weill’s Johnny Johnson.
Following the success of Johnny, Rhonda conducted the British premiere of Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday at the Barbican Centre with the English Chamber Orchestra and soloists, in her own concert version. Other premieres included selections from Weill’s Lady in the Dark and Seven Deadly Sins. One of Rhonda’s frequent collaborators is Marni Nixon: They first worked together in Los Angeles at the Bing Theater, in the West Coast Premiere of Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot, and consequently have worked together through the years in New York at Merkin Hall, with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the New Music Today Ensemble, and the Ordway Theater in St. Paul with the St.Paul Chamber Orchestra.
While living in London Miss Kess taught Musical Theater at Trinity College of Music, and served as Education and Music Theater Conductor for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Rhonda was the first woman to conduct the London Sinfonietta in Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the first woman to conduct in Mexico City, conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico as part of the Prokofiev Centennial. Rhonda first conducted in New York at Merkin Hall as part of the first New York International Festival of the Arts, leading members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic and soloists in the New York premiere of Harrison Birtwistle’s chamber opera Punch and Judy. As an active vocal coach in Los Angeles, working with singers and actors, Rhonda appeared on “The Tonight Show” with rapper Ludacris, with both of them trying to teach Jay Leno how to sing. She is the composer for Lenya: Life to Legend, A Woman On Top, and Lost and Found. OkayBetterBest is her second collaboration with writer Michael Weems. www.rhondakess.com
Book and Lyrics.
Michael Weems is an award-winning, Houston-based playwright. His plays have been seen across the United States and several other countries. Recent publications include: Five Fears of Fatherhood (Original Works Publishing), Dream Lover (Smith & Krauss Best New American Plays – 2014), A Few Miles Away (Plays, The Drama Magazine for Young Audiences), and Fragments and A Common Martyr (both published with Next Stage Press).
Recent productions include: Our Cups Runneth Over (Cone Man Running Productions), Give/Take (Cone Man Running Productions - Co-written with Bryan Maynard), The High and Low Search (Black Book Productions – NYC), Dream Dream Dream (Otherworld Theatre Festival – Chicago), 132 (Warner Int’l Theatre Festival and 15 other standalone productions in the past few years) and Heartbreak USA (SRO Productions, Houston TX – book, lyrics). Michael is a graduate of Lyndon State College in Vermont (Bachelors of Science in Psychology) and has an MFA in Playwriting from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He is a founding board member of Cone Man Running Productions - one of the most recent winners of Houston Press' Mastermind Award. Michael is also a member of the Dramatist Guild of America. Playsofweems.com