Jason Raize Resource
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"I think the process of doing Lion King was very high profile. A lot of people pay attention to what Disney does. Record companies and music industry people were paying attention to me in Lion King, and I started to get offers right away."
--Jason Raize, ZoogDisney chat




 


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Jason Raize Biography
 
Jason Raize
Jason Raize
 (Source: Past version of Jason's official website)
Early Life

Jason Raize, born July 20, 1975, grew up as Jason Rothenberg in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. One of three adopted children, Jason knew nothing about his birth parents or ethnicity. "Because I have an interesting ethnic look, people would always ask me what I was," he said on his official site. "But I didn't have an answer for them. It was really, really difficult, at first. But in my life, it became 'You know what? I'm not going to be labeled.' "


Sadly, Jason lost his first adoptive mother when he was three; four years later, his nine-year-old brother died from lung cancer. His father’s second wife adopted the children a year after they had lost their first mother. As Jason and his sister grew up on the family’s 160-acre estate in the Catskills, they had little exposure to pop culture, including music and television. Jason spent much of his time outside or reading science fiction and fantasy novels.

Getting Started in Theater
When Jason was 15, his mother sent him to Shakespeare in the Valley, a summer workshop that playwright/director Nancy Fales Garrett operated for teens in the Catskills. Jason played Orlando in As You Like It and Feste in Twelfth Night, and he credited Ms. Garrett with sparking his interest in theater.
"[Nancy] encouraged me in a way that I hadn't experienced before," Jason said in a Hollywood Spotlight chat. "The experience of a child to rise to a challenge ... I can still remember the feeling ... having someone challenge you, rising to it! Using the tools within yourself to accomplish something and to be so rewarded within yourself. Doesn't matter what others say. You just had so much fun. I thank her every single day for that."

After his parents divorced, Jason moved with his father to Oneonta, New York, where he began to discover pop culture and to become more involved with theater. He performed in high school plays and with the town’s Orpheus Theatre, where his credits included Chino in West Side Story. Jason moved to New York after high school and briefly attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

"My parents were supportive even though they knew nothing about performing arts," Jason said in his Hollywood Spotlight chat. "We didn't go to theatre growing up. My first experience was performing, but even though they didn't know much about it, when you see that light turn on in your kid's head . . . [I] didn't get excited about anything until I started performing. My parents saw that and said, 'Great!' "
Rather than continuing at AMDA, Jason opted to begin working in theater. He spent the summer of 1994 at the Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania, where he performed as Lun Tha in The King and I, Jess/Dream Curly in Oklahoma!, the title character in Phantom, and Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show.

Jason's other regional credits include Gypsy, The Sound of Music, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Fantasticks.

National Tours

At 19, Jason was cast in his first national tour: a production of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Ted Neely and Carl Anderson. He succeeded Dennis DeYoung of Styx in the role of Pontius Pilate, receiving rave reviews and staying with the tour for one year. Jason next went on tour with Miss Saigon, and had been cast as a swing in a national tour of The King and I starring Hayley Mills when auditions for The Lion King began.

Jason
                            Raize Early Headshot

Jason Raize in The Lion King
Jason as Simba
(Credit: © Per Briehagen)

The Lion King

Though Jason wanted to audition for Simba, the casting director for The Lion King was also working on The King and I and felt that allowing Jason to audition would be a conflict of interest. In response, Jason showed up at an open call for the role of Simba, knowing that they couldn’t turn him away. He auditioned with Lionel Richie's "Hello," then spent three weeks going to callbacks before director Julie Taymor offered him the role.

When The Lion King opened at Broadway's New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13, 1997, it was like nothing seen on Broadway before. Rather than simply staging the animated film, Julie Taymor brought the African jungle to life with creative puppets, intricate masks, and beautiful costumes. The show became one of the biggest Broadway hits of the 1990s, and garnered six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The success of the show meant a whirlwind of attention for the 22-year-old Jason. He performed "Endless Night" on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" on Good Morning America, "Hakuna Matata" on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, and a combined version of "They Live in You" and "He Lives in You" on The Rosie O'Donnell Show. He was also profiled in a January 1998 edition of InTheater magazine, for which he appeared on the cover.

"It's been amazing and it turned into the biggest show that we could ever have imagined," Jason later said in his Disney Channel concert special. "We never thought it would be that big."

Next Projects

Shortly after his debut in The Lion King, Jason signed a deal with Universal Records for his first solo album. Director John Avildsen cast Jason in the film Street Dreams. In fall 1998, he appeared on the compilation album The Paul Simon Album: Broadway Sings the Best of Paul Simon singing the Simon & Garfunkel classic "The Sounds of Silence."


Humanitarian and Environmental Work

On May 3, 1999, Jason produced a benefit for the American Red Cross's efforts to provide aid to victims of the war in Kosovo. Co-produced by publicist Bobby Zarem, the event took place at the Kit Kat Club and featured Quincy Jones, Isaac Hayes, Gloria Gaynor, and Deborah Gibson.


That October, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) appointed Jason a Goodwill Ambassador based upon his use of his creative talents to promote saving the environment and preserving endangered species. UNEP believed that The Lion King conveyed these ideas and that Jason, as a Goodwill Ambassador, would help environmental messages become more real to people of all ages. Jason was the youngest individual ever to receive this honor.

Music Career

With producer Desmond Child (writer and producer of Ricky Martin's 1999 hit "Livin' la Vida Loca"), Jason recorded ten songs for his debut solo album to be titled NYC. Child's Deston Entertainment label, part of Universal Records, released two singles: "Taste the Tears" in December 1999 and "You Win Again" in June 2000. Jason described his music in a ZoogDisney.com chat as, "Pop music that has a bunch of different flavors in each song. From R&B to alternative."

 

He traveled to Disneyland to film a concert special with pop superstar Jessica Simpson, and Jessica Simpson and Jason Raize in Concert premiered on The Disney Channel on June 24, 2000.  "The people that we've gotten assembled for this are just fantastic," Jason said during the special. "We have the most amazing band and a great group of dancers from New York, so I'm really, really blessed." Jason performed many of the album's songs, including "You Win Again," "I Can Make It Without You," and "NYC," in the concert. Unfortunately, his full album was never released.
Jason Raize
                            and Jessica Simpson In Concert Promo
Jason Raize and Jessica Simpson
(Credit: Unknown)

Stage Work
After three years in The Lion King, Jason performed his last show as Simba on August 20, 2000. "I never got bored with Lion King," he said in his ZoogDisney.com chat. "There was something magical about that. I have fun every time I go out there to do a show."

Jason returned to the New York theater scene in January 2001 to star as Joe in Musicals in Mufti's concert production of Carmen Jones, which re-imagined George Bizet’s opera Carmen among African Americans in the American South. The musical features Bizet’s score with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein.
Keeping it Wild
                          with Jason Raize logo
(Credit: Logo © Blue Heron Films)

Televison
Jason starred as Jamal in the made-for-TV-movie The Kitchen produced by Independent Television Service (ITVS). In The Kitchen, Jamal is a first-generation Egyptian American caught between a budding music career and his father’s insistence that he take over the family bodega in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. The film premiered on PBS in June 2001, and is available on DVD.

In fall 2001, Jason's television series Keeping it Wild with Jason Raize debuted on CBS. Stemming from Jason's desire to promote partnerships between environmental and entertainment communities, the show sent Jason to exotic locations to meet with wildlife experts and learn about animals in their natural habitats. Episodes focused on such topics as penguins in Australia, dolphins in Costa Rica, and wildebeest in the Serengeti. Keeping it Wild aired through April 2002.
Film
While Street Dreams never went into production, Jason provided the voice of Denahi in the Disney animated feature Brother Bear which was released in 2003. Brother Bear told the story of Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix), an Inuit boy who kills a bear only to be transformed into a bear himself. When Kenai's brother Denahi sees a bear instead of his brother, he assumes that the bear killed Kenai and sets out to get revenge. To survive, Kenai must befriend a bear cub named Koda and learn the true meaning of brotherhood.

Death and Memorial
Tragically, Jason ended his own life on
February 3, 2004, in Yass, Australia. A memorial service open to the public took place on April 8, 2004, at the New Amsterdam Theatre, where Jason had thrilled crowds as Simba for nearly three years. The service included speeches by Jason's sister Lisa and Disney Theatricals' President Thomas Schumacher, a performance by Jason's former Lion King co-star Heather Headley, a slide show and home movies from Jason's younger days, clips of Jason performing in Lion King and on television, and a traditional South African celebration of passing into the next world led by cast members of The Lion King.


The memorial service program included a Marcus Antonius quote which had appeared in Jason’s original Stagebill bio: "You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act as though it were your last."

Legacy
The Orpheus Theatre, where Jason once performed in Oneonta, now offers two Jason Rothenberg Raize Scholarships each year that enable youth with financial need to attend Orpheus's summer music theater workshops. For more information, click here. 


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Site originally conceived by Meredith Lee and Kathleen Ludewig in January 1998