Reaching The Stars

by Dick Kerekes
The talent from our local universities and colleges certainly contributes much to the quality of local community and professional theatre. A sterling example is Renee Freeman, who is graduating in December from Jacksonville University. To put the final star on her career and education at JU, she presented her Senior Showcase, which is a recital in partial fulfillment for the Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Music Theatre.
Renee was born in West Africa, raised in New York City, and chose JU to attend to study voice and theatre. Lovers of good theatre were certainly grateful for her choosing to come here. We are also grateful that she took her singing and acting talents out into the community theatre scene.
Her first of several appearances on the Players by the Sea stage was in Batboy-the Musical, followed by Cabaret. She did the non singing role of the black soothsayer in the acclaimed Julius X and won the Pelican Best Supporting Actress Award. Last year she did another outstanding dramatic role in Gee’s Bend, playing a woman from the age of early her 20s to her 80s. Renee’s final two performances at Players were in Hair and Pippin.
Fans of the Jacksonville University’s fine theatre program saw Renee in Company, Isaac, I Am and as Sarah, one of the leading role in Ragtime.
If you have never been to a senior showcase recital, it is like an audition to display your musical talents. Students are graded on it by their instructors. You have heard of singing for your supper, well this is like singing for your grades.
Ms. Freeman opened her showcase, dressed as an Italian peasant girl, and singing 2 songs in this language. She left the stage, changed into an evening dress, and came back as a cabaret singer in a German pub, and yes, you guessed it, sang in German. Next it was on to France, singing two numbers in French.
She moved on to a Jazz club and now was getting into songs that I knew. She won me over when she sang in English and French, “Ne me Quitte Pas” (If You Go Away) by Jaques Brel, an artist I had seen several times when living in Paris.
Her final stop on this musical journey was New York with four songs. My favorites being “White Boys” from Hair and “Will You?” from Grey Gardens. Renee spiced up her presentation by using JU actors as backup singers in some numbers and has cabaret and club customers in others.
Although I had heard Renee sings in many musicals, I was not aware of her vocal talents in the field of opera. She was excellent.
The packed Studio Theatre at JU gave her a much deserved standing ovation. We wish her well as she graduates and moves to New York to pursue a career in show business. She leaves Jacksonville with a boat load of talent as a musical theatre performer and a fine dramatic actress. She has a following in this city, and I guarantee that when she gets into her first Broadway show, quite a few of us will be in the audience on opening night. Good Luck Renee, but please don’t break a leg, just knock their socks off in NYC.