Jason Raize Resource

"If you're interested, I would love to be in touch with you about all the things that are happening, and work with you to get up-to-date info and materials on the site."
--Jason Raize via e-mail to The Raize Resource

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Site History
By Meredith Lee, webmaster, 1998-present

Raizens' Jason
                            Raize Page
Early design for the Raizens' Jason Raize Page
When The Lion King was Broadway-bound in fall 1997, I caught a television special called From Pride Rock to Times Square: The Lion King Comes to Broadway. Jason Raize appeared on the screen in his trademark green hat and talked about the stage show's emotional moments, such as his solo "Endless Night" in which Simba asks his deceased father for guidance. Jason explained his connection with this number: he'd lost his own mother at age three.

My mother, watching with me, excitedly informed me that Jason was the nephew of her co-worker's sister-in-law, and that the whole family was thrilled for his big break in The Lion King.

This is not a straightforward site history. Jason, a person I never knew very well, made a tremendous impact on my life, and that's the story that I want to tell. When I "discovered" Jason in 1997,
I was 14 years old and incredibly shy. I didn't know much about Broadway. My mother took me to a lot of local theater as a kid, and I knew many classic musicals, but I didn't know anything about the contemporary theater scene and probably wouldn't have been interested in The Lion King had the cast not included Max Casella from my favorite movie, Newsies.
My cousin Kathleen and I became smitten with Jason when a friend gave us a video of his performance of "Endless Night" on The Rosie O'Donnell Show. After watching the clip countless times, we scoured the Internet to see what we could find about Jason. We uncovered not very much; these were still the early days of the World Wide Web. Then we had an idea: why not start our own site?

I had minimal experience in web design, and Kathleen had even less. But we were impressed with Jason, and figured that he was worthy of a website. My mother and her co-worker provided us with the address of Jason's aunt Sue. We wrote a letter that explained our desire to start the first website about Jason, and asked for her support. We told her that we were calling ourselves "The Raizens" which sounded silly even at age 14, but similar nicknames (such as "Baleheads" for Christian Bale fans) seemed all the rage, and ours amused us so much that we had to use it.

Not long after we sent our letter, Jason's aunt called me and said that Jason was "flattered" by our idea. She encouraged us to move forward, and offered to try to put us in touch with Jason to make sure that we had the right data for the site. We were thrilled and got to work.

The Raizens' Jason Raize Page premiered in early 1998 on Geocities as a fairly typical fan page, and we updated it as we came across information. We also started recording various television appearances featuring Jason and the other cast members. Growing increasingly more excited about our upcoming trip to The Lion King in June 1998, we read or watched nearly everything available about the show. To this day, my first trip to The Lion King remains one of my most treasured experiences in a theater. Even from the last row of the New Amsterdam Theatre, in $25 seats with the words "seat behind pipe" printed on each ticket (the pipe turned out not to be that obtrusive), we sat in awe of Julie Taymor's designs, the incredible sets by Richard Hudson, and the gifted original cast, including (of course) Jason.

After the show, we headed to the stage door to meet Jason. We explained that we were the girls who ran the website, and he greeted us as though we were old friends. He asked if we'd gotten his message (which we had not, but we were too excited to ask for clarification), and, after we gave him the address of our website, he told us excitedly that he had a computer at home. Jason took the time to sign autographs for everyone who had waited, and he took a picture with us in addition to signing our programs.

Over the next year or so, we started to receive e-mails from ushers at the New Amsterdam, fans of Jason, and others who had started websites about Jason and The Lion King. (By this time,
Jason's official website had launched.) Meanwhile, The Lion King had sparked our interest in other Broadway shows, and we began reading theater websites, recording TV appearances, and seeing shows when we could. We moved the site to our locket.net domain in 1999, where it remains. Then, in November 1999, we opened our inbox to find an e-mail from Jason:

You guys have really won my respect, and my gratitude.

I've watched your site develop and grow, constantly impressed by the way in which you handle the process and the information.

This is a very exciting time.  If you're interested, I would love to be in touch with you about all the things that are happening, and work with you to get up-to-date info and materials on the site.

Let me know, and I hope you've all had an excellent Thanksgiving!

Jason Raize

Knowing that Jason appreciated our work meant the world to us. For the next four years, we corresponded periodically with Jason about his various projects. He worked to put us in touch with the people we needed to speak to in order to build our website, such as his management company, his official webmaster, and later his production company.  He was always friendly, and frequently thanked us for our work on the site, even when updates to the site grew less frequent due to part-time jobs, college applications, and (for me) frequent day trips to New York to see Broadway shows.

I will always regret that I never met Jason again after our encounter at the stage door in 1998. He had contacted us while abroad with Keeping it Wild in fall 2001 about meeting up once he returned to New York for "a lunch meeting where we can invite everyone who's interested to chat about all the things I'm working on and see some of the shows and pictures from my traveling," but this never panned out.

At that time, I had just moved to New York to study Dramatic Literature at NYU. Rarely did more than a week or two go by when I didn't attend a Broadway or off-Broadway show. I found fantastic internships in the theater industry and worked for two and a half years as theater editor for NYU's Washington Square News. However, I felt
guilty about the lack of updates to the Raizens website, which had become solely my project as Kathleen pursued other activities. I began working on a revised version to be called "The Raize Resource," and I contacted Jason  in January 2003 to see if he wanted me to add any news to the revised site. He replied:


Thanks so very much for keeping this active, Ladies!  I appreciate it more than I can probably convey in an email!

I'm actually working with the great Walt Disney again, this time I'm voicing the character of Denahi in an animated movie that's currently titled Bears.  I am one of three brothers in the film - One of the other brothers is played by Joaquin Phoenix, who I think is an awesome actor.

Things are going pretty well, I'm in Los Angeles now, looking at other projects and getting my bearings.

How are things with you guys now?  Probably pretty busy, all the more my thanks for managing to work this in to your priorities!  I'm impressed, definitely.

Thanks again, and Happy New Year to you both!

With admiration,

Jason Raize

I wrote to him in June when The Raize Resource launched, but I never heard from Jason again. In February  2004, my mother called me with shocking news from her friend: Jason had killed himself.

I never knew Jason well; I only knew his public persona and a bit of the friendly guy who sent me e-mails over the years. His death devastated me. The person who had played such a role in inspiring my love of theater was gone, and I'd never be able to thank him for all that he'd provided me and all that he had led me to do.

I attended Disney's memorial service for Jason at the New Amsterdam in April 2004, and met Jason's aunt Sue for the first time. She took my hand and said, "I am so sorry for your loss." We discussed the website, and she advised me that I didn't need to take it down. I updated the site with a short statement about Jason's death and a link to an article that I wrote for the NYU newspaper, and for years the site remained inactive.

My intention was to leave the site up as a place where fans could learn a bit more about Jason, especially as his official site had been taken down. I received periodic e-mails from fans asking me a question I couldn't answer: "Why did he do it?" I noticed that Googling "Jason Raize" only brought up articles and blog posts about his suicide, with little about his career aside from a Wikipedia page that someone had essentially plagiarized from my old biography of Jason (without sourcing my site).

In 2009, I began working on reviving The Raize Resource as a tribute to Jason and a resource where fans could learn more about this talented man's life and career. I spent over a year gathering information, creating new site content, verifying facts, working on the site's new look (with my limited knowledge of web design), and formatting articles and photos. I launched the new site in August 2010, and I am thrilled to be able to present Jason's fans with this comprehensive look at all that he accomplished in his short life.

As I write this, it's been almost 13 years since I first saw Jason on television. I'll never forget being a shy teenager, and having a real Broadway star reach out to me and tell me that he appreciated me. I've built a career as a grants writer for arts-in-education programs that I hope will inspire a new generation of young people to discover themselves through the arts. I thank Jason each and every day for inspiring me.

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