Transcript of Jason’s chat on the website Talk City
June 1, 1998
Broadway’s “The Lion King”
June 01, 1998
Jason Raize made a huge splash on Broadway in the role of the adult Simba in Disney’s The Lion King. From there he went on to release his new solo album, NYC. Jason stopped by Talk City to chat about his exciting career and his hopes for the future.
Speaker: Talk City Presents(tm), in association with BOXTOP Live(tm), welcomes you to a conversation with our special guest Broadway’s Jason Raize. Jason, it’s wonderful to have you with us tonight! How does the experience of playing Simba differ from your other Broadway roles?
Jason Raize: I guess we start out with the fact that the movement incorporates an entirely different area of acting into your performance. That’s probably the largest difference from the typical work I’ve been doing. The goal, as mandated by Julia Tamor, our director, has been to achieve a duality between human and animal on the stage. You do that by the use of symbolic movement of your body, and manipulation of your mask. And also typical human teenager movements. That combination should present a picture to the audience that allows them to see both the animal and the human struggles within the character.
Sirrus: “The Lion King” has been nominated for 11 Tony’s – congratulations! How does it feel to be a nominee yourself?
Jason Raize: Actually, I’m not a nominee. The nominations are for the show – for Best Musical, and all of the Design awards, for Directing, and Choreography. It was extremely tight this year, and there are only four slots for the nomination. We had some extremely talented people on stage this year, and VERY deserving people for the nomination. I’ll be there – they’re doing Circle of Life (which of course I’m not in!), but I’ll be there, definitely!
Serious: Is “Lion King” going to go on tour? And are you going to go with it?
Jason Raize: We’re going to first open a Japanese company, within the next six months. Within six months after that, they’ll be opening a London company, then a Toronto company. Following that there’ll be a U.S. tour. It’s an interesting way to do it – it’s not generally done in that fashion. It’s a possibility that I’ll open one or more of those companies, in the first month of one of their lives. We’ve been doing so well – it’s just an incredible blessing! The show is sold out beyond April of next year, and that kind of advance speaks very well for the future of the show, and the demand really isn’t diminishing, which is great. And my contract goes through October of this year.
Teri: Did you do any research or special studies for your role in The Lion King?
Jason Raize: The Discovery Channel! Definitely watched a lot of nature shows, more than getting any specific kinds of lessons from those programs, we were absorbing a sense of the way of the animal kingdom, as it happens in nature. Trying to take the large lessons and incorporate them in some way. Probably the biggest thing in the way of movement for me is in attitude. Animals walk the plains and savannas without fear. We as humans fear a multitude of things, and lions have none of that in their homeland. That’s something we try to bring to the stage – that lack of fear of the world around us.
Nicely: Are there any new songs for the Broadway show?
Jason Raize: Many! I forget the exact number. There are at least five new ones in the Broadway show. For me the most exciting songs on stage are the new ones for the show. The song I sing in the second act is Endless Night. And there’s a wonderful one that will premiere on Rosie O’Donnell tomorrow. In the first act, Mufasa sings a song to little Simba, and in the second act, Rafiki reminds Simba in a reprise, of what his father said to him. And there’s Simba’s realization that the words ring true.
Christiey: What is the hardest think about doing a show almost every night?
Jason Raize: Probably the stress on the body. The amount of energy and impact that the body takes during a performance is unlike any other thing. And performance athletes will attest to that as well. It pushes your body to limits! In order to do that 8 times a week, requires you to prepare your body for that kind of output. And you have to have a good throat doctor! A long warm-up, both vocally and physically. A favorite of mine are jumping jacks, to get the blood flowing and get the energy up. Listening to music definitely. In my situation, if we have an 8:00 show, I get there at 7:30, and I’m not onstage for some time into the show. So I spend 45 minutes warming up and listening to music and getting makeup done (by a GREAT makeup person – we get to talk all the time). And then get out there and do the show.
Johnniey: If you could play any character – play, movie, etc. – which one would you like to try?
Jason Raize: Difficult question! I would probably want to perform an as-yet unwritten piece of work, because as much as I like interpreting existing works, there’s a kind of spirit that you get to imbue into whatever character you’re portraying that’s very, very unique. When you’re using all of your own secrets and methods of bringing the character to life for the first time. It would definitely be musical – I’m only talking within the theatrical world. Film and TV are a different world, I can’t comment on a particular role. I’d like to bring a character to the theatre that would involve some great fantasy work. I’m a great fan of fantasy stories and worlds of magic. I think it would be really wonderful, with all the technology we have available today, to combine that with the imagination and the electricity of a live performance.
CJ: What theatre training have you had? Professional and amateur.
Jason Raize: I guess the best theatre training I had to start out with was a Shakespeare summer workshop when I was 15. I was sent to that as an excuse to get me out of the house. A woman named Nancy Garrett vacationed where I grew up, and she took that time on her vacation to teach that summer workshop for students. I performed As You Like It and Twelfth Night, as my first experiences. That woman really lit the spark in me. Professionally, I attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, after high school. Now, I’m sort of split as to what I’d advise for training/experience. It depends on the person, and each person would have a different route to take. For me, I’d have had that spark knocked out of me if I’d been in a four year course. But a great friend of mine from high school went to a college at Syracuse, and gained an amazing repertoire of talents to draw upon. And that will make his stay in New York much more successful.
Cinser: Is there a CD of the show? Are you on it (if there is?)
Jason Raize: Yes. And yes! I believe it’s Track 16, but I’m not sure. I’m also recording a solo pop album right now, working with Desmond Childs and Universal Records, so there will be another CD to buy within the next year!
Listenin To Dylan: How do the cast members get along? I loved the Lion King on Broadway. Jason, you are very talented and cute!
Jason Raize: Most casts bond as a family when you do a production, and what typically happens is that your association gets strengthened, especially when you’re doing a semi- original work like this. Our experience was heightened because we opened in Minneapolis last year, so we ended up spending 7 days a week together! This cast knows each other very well, and that’s a great support system for the rigors of a performance schedule.
Tony Jacobson: Do you sing many of the songs in African languages? If so what languages are they in?
Jason Raize: I sing only a couple of lines, and the lines that I sing are Zulu. The same goes for most of the characters, except Rafiki’s character, who sings entire chants in a combination of African languages.
Cindy: Are you going to venture into film after your contract is up?
Jason Raize: I actually have a film now that we’re in pre-production on. It’s titled Street Dreams, directed by the Rocky and Lean On Me director. We have our tentative start date in November. It’ll be shot on location here in New York, and in New Jersey. So I guess the answer to your question is “yes.” It’s a film about high schoolers with big dreams overcoming the odds of their socio-economic status. Kind of like a West Side Story, crossed with Dirty Dancing. It’s not a musical, although once I signed on to do it, they re-wrote some of the scenes so that the character is an aspiring singer as well as actor. My record company is going to produce the sound-track, and I’ll get to record some of the songs. It’s a great opportunity.
Irelandsmc: How do you feel about musicals becoming so much more mainstream? For example Rosie O’Donnel promoting stuff (like you!) on her show.
Jason Raize: I think it’s fantastic, because I believe that theatre is an experience unlike any other in this multi-media age. And theatre needs a friend in the multi-media areas, to spread its interest among this new generation of consumers. And the best way to do that is to have people like Rosie O’Donnell, who share with the world their personal interest in a form of art such as theatre. And who will hopefully inspire large number of people to test those waters, and hopefully enrich themselves because of it. Rosie O’Donnell did a whole year with Grease, and she talks about it to this day! We are nothing but insanely fortunate to have Rosie O’Donnell not only promoting Broadway in general, but our show in particular. It just blew me away to watch her show the next morning; she was so enthusiastic. She did us such a great service, and it was completely unsolicited!
Terris: What kind of books to you read?
Jason Raize: Fantasy! I read fantasy and entertainment biographies. My favorite series is the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. One of the best entertainment biographies was not about an artist, but about a firm – the William Morris Agency. It was titled The Agency. The author did such an amazing service to the creation of the company, but also gave an entire history of the entertainment business – from immigrants who came to this country and started burlesque theatre, and how that lead to film, and theatre, and radio work. It’s an amazing book about the business I’m in.
Cindy: How can I find out about you where abouts. Do you have a Web site?
Jason Raize: Right now the website is at www.jasonraize.com
Basher: Hi Jason. I was wondering what the hardest part, and the funnest part of being in a theater production was.
Jason Raize: The hardest is the dancing, in this role particularly. We have a fantastic modern choreographer, but he has little regard for what positions the body is supposed to be in! As for the funnest, in this role it’s being able to make the connection between the audience and myself. Singing Endless Night, and sharing the discovery that we have pieces of ourselves from everyone we’ve touched in our lives. That touches me. My mother died when I was three, and I had a brother who died when I was seven. Exploring that is very important to me personally, and I enjoy being able to do that.
Fargout: What is it like playing an inhuman character? It’s gotta be difficult to work with all that make-up and costuming.
Jason Raize: It absolutely is! I guess in the beginning it was learning how to deal with it. Now it’s learning how to do without it. Truly, humans are very adaptable creatures! It wasn’t long before the aspects of the performance incorporated everything that was thrown at us by the direction team. The only irritating thing for me is that I have a big red V in body paint over my shoulders and chest, and when it gets hot (and it does, on stage, every night!), the paint starts to run! Julie the director likes the streaks though; she says that the paint starts to run just at the right time in the character’s development, and the red streaks remind her of blood!
Cindy: what kind of things do you do besides performing?
Jason Raize: Right now working on the album takes up a lot of time. doing song searches, and preparing those songs for performing. I love to read. I go to the gym. My absolute favorite is movies – I go to the movies all the time; there’s nothing like sitting in a theatre!
Mad Mel: Who is your favorite Broadway star or actor/actress?
Jason Raize: Glenn Close. Her husband works on our show, and she was such a presence. She came and saw the show ten times, and she came backstage, and hung out quite a bit. The energy that emanates from that woman – even when she’s standing still! It’s amazing. And I’d like to get Anthony Hopkins on a stage.
Fargout: Performing on stage can be a great experience, but have you ever had any embarrassing moments, such as missed lines or incorrect notes? I know I have, but the show must go on!
Jason Raize: Definitely! The worst for me was the process of tweaking the costumes. We all had intricate costumes with all sorts of contraptions to make the design work. My personal demon was my mask. It had a tendency to not want to stay in place. I’ve lost it on stage about six times! It always comes at the same time, when the choreography calls for me to swing my head in circles – a move designed to lose masks! Once it went off and into the orchestra pit. And of course my microphone is in my mask. So when I lose the mask, I lose the mic. And we lose a LOT of sound!
Katrina: Jason, doing the shows such as you do must require a high level of stamina. What do you do to keep your stamina up?
Jason Raize: Vitamins. Sleep. And gym. Also, big, big doses of fun time!
Fargout: I see you were in The Rocky Horror Picture Show on stage. How was that performance? Was it as fun as it sounds like portraying Rocky?
Jason Raize: Yes, it was a riot! I actually performed it at the Bucks County Playhouse. They have a tradition there that they do midnight shows of Rocky Horror AFTER whatever show they were doing during the day. It was a long day, but the audiences loved it – they’d dress up – they were wild!
Paleboy: Do you have any advice for a young kid (15) trying to get into show business?
Jason Raize: First off, involve yourself in any project in your immediate area. That will give you a taste for what you like to do, because there are so many different styles of performance art, and you don’t want to do something that ultimately you don’t like. After that, find supporters and adults around you, and then make the move to a major performing arts community in the world – usually New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Then involve yourself in a class, to work with teachers and other actors, but also to introduce you to people doing the same thing you are, and will give you good friends.
Bichchoh: What has been the easiest part of your career?
Jason Raize: Getting the opportunity to sing for people.
Basher: Even as what I would consider you a “big guy” in the theater world, do you get nervous at all before your auditions?
Jason Raize: Auditions get a lot easier. I know that some people have said they get harder, but for me they get easier because doing long runs of any musical or play gives you a confidence like no other, because you spend so much time before other people that your body begins to stop doing the typical nervous reactions. It’s really funny in a long run, because you don’t walk on stage nervous, but you’ll become twice as nervous if something happens that you don’t expect to happen! You’re totally unprepared for something different from what you’ve been doing for a year. So far we’ve been pretty lucky with not dropping our lines.
Fargout: Apparently you have a very pleasant face to look at, so I will just ask – do you think physical appearance has some influence in obtaining a role?
Jason Raize: It most definitely does, but that’s not to say that “classic beauty” is a factor there. Of course any role and any director looking for a role has a “type” in mind. The evil “T word” in performing arts! But there is much more against-the-grain casting going on now, and there are also roles that are type-appropriate for any person. It’s more a factor of whether people can take an honest look at themselves, and then make the tough decision of what roles to go out for. You’ll have much better experience going for roles that you’re type- specific for, or ones you have a burning desire to play!
Speaker: Thank you for joining us here in Talk City, Jason! Is there anything you’d like to mention that we didn’t have a chance to cover tonight?
Jason Raize: A humungous thank you! I’m really so blown away by people’s response to the show, and specifically to me and my performance. I would urge people to stick in there. I really enjoy letting people know about what I’m doing, and if people want to get in touch with me through the website, I’ll keep them up to date on what I’m doing, and when the CD is coming out. Please come to New York and stop by the stage door afterwards. You can write to Jason Raize, c/o The Lion King Company, The New Amsterdam Theatre, 219 West 41st Street, New York, N.Y., 10036
Speaker: As the spotlight dims, tonight’s show comes to an end. We thank you, our great audience, and a very special thank you to our guest Jason Raize. We look forward to seeing you again soon. Talk City Presents is produced in conjunction with BoxTop Live(tm) & Talk City(tm), a production of LiveWorld Productions Inc.