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

Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Photo by Krissie Fullerton

Tell me your wish list for 54 Below. How high are we aiming?
JAT: Phil [Geoffrey Bond], who is the current director of programming and whom I love and whom I've known for years, is staying on as director of original programming, and part of what we are going to work on together… There is going to be a new series at 54 Below that's musicals in concert, which will be really, really exciting. Through that, we hope to be able to present really worthy musicals, which you might not have seen, fully in concert and also get a lot of great folks, who might have participated in those shows originally, [to perform in the concert]. I wish I could say more details… There are so many shows that we both want to do! I have a ton of ideas for both younger and older Broadway stars who haven't done cabaret acts yet. I will say, there is a TV show that I enjoyed a lot that may be celebrated in some way at 54 Below in the near future. It will be very special, and details have not yet been divulged. One of the things that I'll be doing is continuing the Once Upon a Time in New York City concert [series, which was seen in fall 2012 and winter 2013 at Joe's Pub]. My goal is to do these once a month as regular programming at 54 Below and have a dozen musical theatre writers — both people who are established and people who are emerging — write new songs about New York City.

As far as other specific bookings, there are so many people I'm dreaming of to hopefully be part of our upcoming 54 Below lineup: from Norm Lewis to Michele Lee... and there are so many songwriters I'm dying for us to showcase, from Maltby and Shire to Craig Carnelia to Peter Allen. There are infinite possibilities as far as Broadway performers and writers go!

There will also be a new interview series as well? This sounds like a perfect fit for the venue — 54 Below offering theatregoers intimate access to top-notch Broadway talent.
JAT: It's such a great space in itself. It actually used to be a recording studio, and Madonna recorded a single there once — side bar! There will definitely be more interactive types of events, in terms of having the audience get involved. We're developing an interview series, so that's definitely something to look out for very soon. Someone exciting will be hosting, with a very fancy theatre guest being interviewed, and the audience will be able to ask questions.

Will we see Broadway Trivia Night return?
JAT: I'll be hosting Broadway Trivia every month, so that's another fun monthly event. It's really great because I'm doing these interviews for my book, and facts that I've learned in these interviews have been integrated into Broadway Trivia Night.

Tell me about your book. How many interviews have you completed?
JAT: I've actually done 198, which sucks because I'm giving you this interview right now, and I wish I could say 200! [Laughs.] They've been with producers, actors, directors, stagehands, musicians, doormen, company managers, press agents, everybody. The book is called "The Untold Stories of Broadway," and each chapter of the book is a different Broadway theatre. Basically, [readers] get taken through the history of the theatre through people's personal stories and through my stories — chronologically. So, if you open the book to the chapter that is the Neil Simon Theatre, you get a story from 1955 about Maury Yeston seeing his first Broadway show, and [then] here's a story from 1962 about Hal Prince working on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and then a story from Len Cariou about auditioning on the stage in 1969, and then James Maloney — a stagehand — talking about shadowing his stagehand dad in 1970 and then running the lighting consoles himself at the theatre a decade later during Merrily in 1981. They each tell a story, and, in between, I tell you secret things you might not know about the theatre or provide more fun facts and context for the stories being told firsthand. Who has inhabited the star dressing rooms at the theatre? What bar next to the theatre was a favorite hang-out for decades? Basically, in between each story, you get a little bit of Jen Tepper.