SF State alumna stars in Tony winning musical ‘Gypsy’

Sahar Swaleh

After weeks of rehearsals and preparation, SF State alumna Elaine Jennings starred as Tessie Tura/Miss Cratchitt in the Tony Award-winning musical “Gypsy” on opening night Nov. 9 at the Alcazar Theatre.

The Alcazar, a nonprofit theatre in San Francisco, celebrated its fifth anniversary with Bay Area Musicals’ production of “Gypsy” as its opening winter musical. The musical is based off of the memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous burlesque entertainer in the 1940s. The story follows her theatrical and dark childhood. Gypsy becomes a stripper due to her domineering stage mother’s will for her daughter to become a star. The musical goes through Gypsy’s life with pizazz, comedy and dance. 

A live orchestra played upbeat jazz music. Guests held up cups of champagne and wine as the lights flashed to signal the start of the production. Director Matthew McCoy thanked guests for arriving and gave a special thanks to Gypsy Rose Lee’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, for attending the opening night. 

Jennings plays two roles, Tessie Tura and Miss Cratchitt. In the first act she is Miss Cratchitt, a jaded assistant who makes it difficult for Gypsy’s mom to get what she wants. On stage with a grey wig and pencil skirt, she was nearly unrecognizable as she delivered her lines in a raspy voice. She embodied a stingy assistant with stern and stiff gestures. 


(L – R) Glenna Murillo as Electra, Olivia Cabera as Mazeppa and Elaine Jennings as Tessie Tura in Bay Area Musicals’ production of “Gypsy” directed and choreographed by Matthew McCoy. (Photo by Ben Krantz Studio)

In the second act, she transforms into an elegant ballerina stripper by the name of Tessie Tura. She wore a pink corset with butterfly wings and fishnet stockings and used a crackly voice that was a far cry from her previous character. 

“The strippers of the musical are really fun,” Jennings said. “They give some lividity to a dark show and when the audience has a chance to laugh, they will.” 

Jennings graduated from SF State in 1996 with a business degree. She was originally a theatre major but switched to business for stability. Since then, she started a catering and special events business that allows her to focus on her acting. 

“I came back to acting much later in life,” Jennings said. “It was not a road I traveled. I had to split it off and come back to it later in life when I was established and my kids were grown.” 

Prior to “Gypsy,” Jennings participated in plays that helped develop her acting skills. She currently takes a master acting class at Seydways Acting Studio and does vocal training. 

Jade Shoajee, who plays the lead character, Gypsy Rose Lee, has performed in theatre productions since she was 8 years-old. She majored in English literature at San Jose State. Although she didn’t major in theatre, Shojaee took intensive acting classes starting in high school. 

“The show is absolutely gorgeous. Whenever I have the chance, I sit in the house and watch the performance,” Shojaee said. “We’re a small cast of super talented actors who are intimate with the material and we’re all working hard.” 

Shojaee has been in previous performances such as “Fiddler on the Roof,”
“It Should’ve Been You” and Shakespeare plays.

“[Jennings] is awesome,” Shojaee said. “She’s lovely to work with and supportive. She’s one of those people that’s invaluable to the cast.”

The musical runs from Nov. 9 to Dec. 8 at the Alcazar Theatre.