PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jennifer Ashley Tepper on 54 Below's Future, "The Untold Stories of Broadway" and More

By Michael Gioia
24 Aug 2013

What was that cast album that you played out as a child?

Jim Walton and Jennifer Ashley Tepper
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

JAT: Merrily [We Roll Along] was huge, clearly, and greatly informed my taste as a musical theatre artist. Anything by [William] Finn, and anything by Craig Carnelia and Maltby and Shire — I would say that growing up, it was a steady diet of those. So many of the Bill Finn cast albums, though — In Trousers and Elegies and both the Falsettos albums got very worn out. I loved those. Also, my mom would get me eight cast albums for Chanukah every year. Each night of Chanukah, I would get a different cast album.

What was your first Broadway show?
JAT: The Full Monty.

That was my first musical!
JAT: Really?! [Laughs.] That's amazing! The first time I ever came to New York, we actually had tickets for something else my first night here — I won't say what show it was — and I was really angry. We had gotten tickets to all these shows before we got here — mostly based on what I wanted to see — and I was with my family, and the first day we were here, I said, "That can't be my first Broadway show" because it had been around for a while, and we've already seen it on tour — it won't be special. I wanted to see something that was a new musical and had a new score. I was very insistent on this — at the age of 14 — so we went to The Full Monty. Because it was last minute, we went that day to buy tickets, [and] we ended up finding out there was a thing called student rush — because my sister and I were both young — so we ended up getting front-row tickets to Full Monty. I was 14, my sister [Jessica Kent] was nine. [Laughs.] My sister's first time seeing a naked man was our first Broadway show, and it was just amazing… Everything about it was amazing, but I was so happy that I saw an original musical for my first show.

Tell me about your position at 54 Below. What do you think will set 54 Below apart from other cabaret venues in the city, and what are you going to do as a programming director to make that happen?
JAT: I think a great thing that [54 Below has] done so amazingly so far — and that I certainly plan to continue — is really making the place the "Broadway concert venue." You can go to a lot of concert venues — all of which I love, and all of which I've produced concerts at — and you can see a Broadway artist one night, and then a hip-hop artist or a violinist the next. While 54 Below certainly does diverse programming, I think they've done a great job at making it so that almost every night you will have a Broadway star [or] you will have work by a Broadway writer — you will have the real "Broadway concert experience."

Also, one of the main reasons why I'm a good fit for this is because the great new musical theatre writer who stepped off the bus yesterday is just as important to me as Barbara Cook. [It's] that idea that there can be a venue that presents work by new musical theatre writers, concerts by Broadway luminaries who are in their 80s, nights of casts from current Broadway shows — and more — all under one roof. I'm planning on continuing the great programming they are doing and also infusing it with just as much variety as possible from the different pockets of the musical theatre community, which includes writers who have had one show Off-Broadway and writers who have eight Tonys. That idea of mixing the pockets of the community together really excites me — as does booking artists who are great Broadway performers who haven't done a cabaret before!