Broadway Actress Gives Music Students Performance Advice
What if you had the chance to learn from the actress who has played Mrs. Potts from the Broadway show “Beauty and the Beast”? Seven Liberty University music and theatre students had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Monday night (Feb 5) from 5:30-7:30 p.m. to receive instruction from Jeanne Lehman French, an internationally recognized singer and Broadway actress.
French has an extensive list of shows under her belt, besides her role as Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast”: Mother Abbess from “The Sound of Music,” Mrs. Molloy from “Hello Dolly,” Eliza from “My Fair Lady” and Anna from “The King and I,” to name a few. She has performed several times at the Carnegie Hall, with the New York Pops as well as the Philly Pops. French was also a Julie Andrews understudy, indicating the caliber of her quality.
Professionals in the musical theater world know her name and her reputation as a singer with perfectly executed vocal technique and a gracious lady. French is an educator as well. She taught at New York University — among other places — and spent time teaching internationally.
The sweet, energetic 73-year-old is still going strong, performing internationally on tours and teaching the next generation of vocalists and performers.
At Liberty, French held a master class in the Macel Falwell Recital Hall where each of the seven students presented a song and were given feedback on how to improve.
Weeks prior, an email was sent out to all the School of Music vocal faculty requesting that they nominate the best student in their studio who had a desire to pursue musical theater and performance.
Excited but nervous students filled the room in the minutes leading up to the class. One by one, the students performed and as French dialogued with them, the audience could see and hear the students relax, become more confident and perform more expressively.
French challenged the students not to worry about what other people think of them. She noted that knowing who you are as a person is one of the most important things in the musical theater world.
“People are tired of just hearing voices. Find your story and be strong in sharing it,” French said.
After listing a few of the characters she played, French said that she loved every role and found something in each character that she could connect with. She encouraged students to do the same and said that doing so would improve their singing even more.
Mindy Damon, associate professor of commercial music, has known French for 24 years. In an email, she explained that French had a lot to offer students but, “Most of all, I hope they see what a gracious and secure performer they can be without always having to feel like they are in constant competition with others.”
McKayla Kinsey, a senior vocal music student who had the opportunity to be coached by French, said she loved how French started out her time with each student with a personal moment, where she said a few words privately and helped calm them. Kinsey also appreciated how French gave advice on how to better tell the story within the song.
Wanting to teach her own voice students someday, Kinsey said she was grateful for the opportunity to watch French teach the other students as well, and could glean different techniques and ideas from her that she hopes to implement in the future.
After French finished evaluating all the students, there was a Q&A session where French shared personal stories in her dialogue with students.
“You will never catch (French) talking about herself, and this is because she has such an inner glow that once you meet Jeanne, there’s no need for her to talk about herself because the beauty that she radiates speaks for itself,” Damon wrote.
Samantha Miller, assistant professor of voice, said that two of her students had the opportunity to perform for French and that they both loved her and said that it was one of their favorite experiences at Liberty.
During the Q&A session, French shared some of her personal musical journey. From the beginning, she always knew that this was what she wanted to do with her life. She came from a musical family, and by age 11, was singing in concerts all over California with her twin sister. As doors continued to open, French walked through them.
She did not hide the fact that it is not easy being in the field and being a Christian at the same time. French warned students that they needed to be prepared for non-Christians who would try to pull the rug out from underneath them. Even in those situations, God still works through them, she reminded.
“It is not about you,” French said. “You have to know who you are and Whose you are and there is a reason for everything.”
French also said that in her life, she didn’t have to necessarily “put her faith out there.” People knew what she believed. She stuck to her convictions and God brought people to her to share her story and beliefs. “I don’t preach. I live,” French said.
Miller hopes that after hearing French’s journey students will realize that it is possible for them to maintain their faith as they pursue performing careers.
“There needs to be more people like her in every secular music genre being a light for Christ,” Miller said. “I think she ran the race well and is finishing strong, which I think is a wonderful example for our students.”
Before she ended the evening, French emphasized that her prayer before every show or concert is to see one life touched. In the end, that is all that matters.
French had planned on giving a concert on Tuesday night (Feb 6) in the Concert Hall. However, she was diagnosed with the flu earlier that day and was unable to perform. Miller hopes that French will return next year so students get the privilege of hearing her full testimony and her amazing talent.