BWW Interview: Catching Up With Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Last time BroadwayWorld interviewed Jennifer Ashley Tepper, the young producer was getting ready to premier a new concert series of what she called "unappreciated" songs from musicals. A year and a half later, If It Only Even Runs a Minute has already gone through six editions, and will play its seventh on Monday.
"It took us the first two concerts to really figure out what the concert was," Tepper says. "At first, it was like, 'here are a lot of songs that I really like-songs from a lot of musicals with people that I really want to hear sing them.'" After the first two concerts proved popular, Tepper and the creative team realized that the shows could expand to include stories and anecdotes from shows, and even analyses of why some Broadway productions succeed and others don't.
Moreso than other retrospective concerts (like Broadway by the Year or Flops & Cuts), If It Only Even Runs a Minute is a multi-media experience, with plenty of photos (many of them rare) to complement the music and stories. That sense of history is especially important to Tepper, who points out how many of the Broadway theaters themselves have remained largely unchanged for the better part of a century while what happens inside may change every few months. "There's a kind of physical history that we live inside of," she says. "I'm obsessed with that. I love the combination of being able to see production photos or a marquee or backstage, behind-the-scenes photos, and then hear a story from someone in one of those photos 20 years later, and then hear a song from that show that gives you a picture of what that might have been like...To talk about it, and to see it and to hear the music, it's all so important in understanding how the shows were."
Unlike concert series with a regular home, If It Only Even Runs a Minute has had a more Bohemian, scattered existence. Its first two productions were at the Laurie Beechman Theater, followed by two at Le Poisson Rouge and two at last year's New York Musical Theater Festival. Monday's concert will be at Caroline's, and the next one might be anywhere in the city. "We're doing, like, the New York City tour," Tepper laughs, and notes how much more intimate a cabaret space can be for a concert like this: "You have a drink in hand, sitting at a party with your friends, hearing stories...It feels very like, community, family-like, sitting around the table with food."
In addition to producing the concert series, Tepper has been working as Ken Davenport's Director of Promotions on the upcoming Broadway revival of Godspell, due to open in October. "This is my first time working on a Broadway show since [title of show], in a very different capacity," she says. "It's been nIce To learn that it's been equally magical every step of the way." One of Tepper's responsibilities involved working an open call audition that saw thousands of hopefuls standing in line to make their Broadway debuts. "We wanted to make sure we had an open call, because really, the spirit of the show is like Hair and other shows that have happened recently, with a complete new generation on Broadway. We really want to give everyone a chance to be seen. Ken is always talking the people who ran the original production, they were super young and it was Andrea Martin and Gilda Radner and Eugene Levy, all in the beginning of their careers." Ten years ago, she adds, a production ran at the York with future stars like Chad Kimball, Leslie Kritzer and Shoshana Bean in the ensemble. "It's that kind of show with the young spirit," she says.
As a member of a Broadway producer's team and an up-and-coming producer in her own right, Tepper says that she has learned a great deal about both the business of show business, such as raising capital, and about the artistic sides as well, such as developing an original musical or breathing fresh life into a revival. "I'm becoming very producer-centric in my head," she says. "And I don't think it always was. I think I was approaching it from a different angle, and now that I'm watching Ken and other producers, I want to ask 'oh, Joe Papp, how did he approach this production different from that one?' and 'how did this show get produced?'"
In researching Broadway history for If It Only Even Runs a Minute, Tepper has noticed recurrent themes and trends in show business: For example, numerous actors were cut during previews of legendary flop Legs Diamond. "I was reading about all of the names on the poster outside the Mark Hellinger. They were taped on, so they could remove anyone at any time," she says. "It was summer, it was hot, and the names were peeling off-and this has so many parallels to Spider-Man! I always find myself on stage and I describe it and we can have a conversation about how we're part of a longer history. It's so exciting, because that's what the concert is really about."