Before 27-year-old musical theatre enthusiast Jennifer Ashley Tepper made her way to New York City, the theatre historian, writer and producer — who will assume a new position at 54 Below next month as the venue's director of programming — was educating herself on the history of Broadway one cast album at a time in Boca Raton, FL. With big city dreams, Tepper made her way to Manhattan, attending college at New York University and paving her way to become a "Musical Theatre Historian," an all-encompassing title she created for herself that includes producing theatrical concerts — such as the popular If It Only Even Runs a Minute and Once Upon a Time in New York City series — celebrating underappreciated musicals, writing the occasional article about emerging songwriters and educating theatregoers on the history of Broadway.
Tepper, who assisted on the Broadway production of [title of show], has also worked for Tony Award-nominated director Michael Greif (Next to Normal, Rent, Grey Gardens) and producer Ken Davenport (Macbeth, Kinky Boots, Godspell) and, this winter under the Dress Circle Publishing banner, will release her first full-length book entitled "The Untold Stories of Broadway," featuring countless interviews from artists in the professional world of theatre. Tepper, also known for her Twitter personality — where she often shares theatrical facts, historic Broadway photos and commentary on the NBC musical drama "Smash" — sat down with Playbill.com to chat about the future of 54 Below, "The Untold Stories of Broadway" and owning the title "Theatre Geek."
On Twitter, you often refer to 2013 as "Our Year." Why so?
Jennifer Ashley Tepper: 2013 has been really amazing. I work regularly with Joe Iconis, who is a musical theatre writer, and this year kicked off with him getting the largest amount of recognition — in terms of sheer number of people listening to his songs from them appearing on "Smash" — so that was very exciting for the group of artists that we work with: the "Joe Iconis and Family" group. And, the year has been a really exciting journey of dreams coming true. I have wanted to write a book my entire life. I've always said I wanted to be a musical theatre historian, and, at the beginning of the year, I signed a book deal with these great publishers, Dress Circle Publishing, who are publishing my first book, which is called "The Untold Stories of Broadway." I also worked on Macbeth on "The Broadway," and now I am starting as the new director of programming at 54 Below. So, in a nutshell… 2013 has been a year of literally dreams coming true.
What was your first brush with theatre? I find it interesting that underappreciated musicals seem to be a passion of yours.
JAT: I grew up in Florida, [and] I was obsessed with theatre from a very young age, but like many of us who don't grow up in New York, all I really had were cast albums. I would drag people to the occasional touring production, local production or school production, and that was all great, but basically my education about theatre came from cast albums. I lived far enough away that I was only [able] to visit New York three times before I got to move here forever when I was 18. Those visits were very transformative for me, but I certainly knew before that from studying cast albums… I think that's what first stuck it in my head — probably at the ripe age of nine or ten — to [think], "These are some great recordings, and these sound like great shows, but I'd never heard of them or they didn't seem to be big hits," and that kind of set me forth on educating myself.
There are a lot of books that are great in providing that education on musicals. The most important one to me was Ken Mandelbaum's book "Not Since Carrie," which completely informed me as a "Musical Theatre Aficionada Wannabe" about the idea that there were so many musicals out there that deserved a second shake or that were underappreciated. If It Only Even Runs a Minute, which [Kevin Michael Murphy, musical director Caleb Hoyer and I] started in January 2010 — we've done 11 concerts of it — is kind of a combination of original cast members and writers coming to sing songs they originated and tell stories, [as well as] new people interpreting the material for the first time, from a huge variety of underappreciated shows. It's been like hearing cast albums that I grew up with come to life, and it's also given me an opportunity to hear and explore shows that are somewhat forgotten, mostly because they weren't recorded. One good example is we had [collaborators Richard] Maltby [Jr.] and [David] Shire come, and we did a number from their show How Do You Do, I Love You, which was one of their first shows they ever wrote, and it closed out of town, and it was fantastic, and it had all this great material, and it starred Phyllis Newman. They both came and told stories about that, and we did a number from it… There's been a lot of shows we've featured like that, [where] the writers have seen interest in those shows after the concert.
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