ABOUT THIS SITE
I’ve watched your site develop and grow, constantly impressed by the way in which you handle the process and the information.” – Jason Raize via email, 1999
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 and talked about the stage show’s emotional moments, such as his solo “Endless Night.” 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 did not 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 was unfamiliar with the contemporary theater scene and probably would not 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. We scoured the Internet to see what we could find about Jason, but we uncovered not very much in these early days of the World Wide Web. Then we had an idea: why not start our own site?
Through my mother and her co-worker, we sent a letter to Jason’s aunt Sue. We explained our desire to start the first website about Jason and asked for her support. We also introduced our nickname for ourselves: “The Raizens.” This sounded silly even at age 14, but similar nicknames (i.e. “Baleheads” for Christian Bale fans) were popular at the time, 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 had 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.
Photos above taken by Richard Lee at the New Amsterdam Theatre stage door on June 27, 1998
Over the next year or so, we received emails from staff at the New Amsterdam Theatre, 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.
In November 1999, we opened our inbox to find an email 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!
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, including his management company, his official webmaster, and later his production company. He was always friendly, and he frequently thanked us for our work on the site, even when our 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 wonderful internships in the theater industry and worked for two and a half years as theater editor for NYU’s Washington Square News. The website was still on my mind but infrequently updated, and I decided to change that by revamping the site with a new name (“The Raize Resource”) and design. (Kathleen gave me her blessing but left the site to me as she pursued other activities.) In January 2003, I contacted Jason 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!
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 emails 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 had given me and all that he led me to do.
I attended Disney’s memorial service for Jason at the New Amsterdam in April 2004. There, I 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 did not 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 emails from fans asking me a question I could not 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, and formatting articles and photos. I launched the new site in August 2010 and was thrilled to be able to present Jason’s fans with this comprehensive look at all that he accomplished in his short life.
In spring 2020, I was at home like many others feeling anxious and afraid as COVID-19 raged around us. I came across a YouTube video of original cast and creative team members of The Lion King performing a socially-distanced version of “He Lives In You.” I listened to Heather Headley reflect on her experience in the show:
We loved together, and we learned together. We cried together, and we celebrated together. We have mourned together.” – Heather Headley
I watched the incredible performance and listened to Jason’s vocals which I knew so well. At the end of the video, when the words “In Loving Memory of Jason Raize” appeared on the screen, I burst into tears.
Before I knew it, my next project in my extended time at home was the one I had started back in 1997. This time, I redid the site in WordPress to be more modern and mobile-friendly, while refreshing content and updating links. In doing so, I was able to reconnect with Jason. I revisited each of his projects and remembered the anticipation and excitement I had felt for my trip to The Lion King, the release of Jason’s first single, the premiere of his concert special, the announcement of his appointment as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, and so much more.
Nearly 23 years have passed since I first saw Jason on television. I have built a career in the not-for-profit arts, specifically working to secure foundation and government grants for arts education and arts training programs that inspire young people to discover their potential through the arts. I thank Jason each and every day for inspiring me.
Acknowledgments and Sources
For their essential guidance, support, and information that have made this site possible, thank you to Patty Everett; Sean Kennedy; Kathy Kong; Anne Lee; Troye Levin; Sue Lubin; Carmen Oulahan; and Tracy, Anna, Tess, and the rest of the former Raizens YahooGroup.
For photos and other images that bring the site to life, thank you to all the sources credited throughout this site. Very special thanks to frequent sources: Deston Entertainment/Universal Records, Disney, Independent Television Service, InTheater, various versions of JasonRaize.com, the Jesus Christ Superstar 1995-1996 A.D. Tour program (photos by Richard Feldman), Richard Lee, The Lion King publicity photos by Joan Marcus, The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway coffee table book, and Urban Mozaik.
For providing information that made this website comprehensive and accurate, I am grateful to the following sources:
- Blue Heron Films, past website accessed 29 August 2010.
- Brother Bear official page on Disney.com
- Bucks County Playhouse, past website at BucksCountyPlayhouse.com accessed via the Internet Archives, 8 September 2011.
- Fales Library and Special Collections. “Guide to the Nancy Fales Garrett Papers.” New York University. Accessed 5 September 2020.
- Fleming, Michael. “ ‘Lion’s’ Raize to star in Avildsen project.” Daily Variety, 26 February 1998.
- Gener, Randy. “Broadway Benefit May 3 to Help Kosovo War Victims.” BroadwayNow, April 1999.
- Henderson, Kathy. “Long Live the Kings.” InTheater, 8 February 1999, 18-21.
- Hollywood Spotlight chat, 15 June 1998.
- “In Tribute: Jason Raize.” Memorial service program, front and back. 8 April 2004.
- Jason Raize’s official website, previously online at JasonRaize.com (accessed via the Internet Archives, 31 March 2009) and wwwebstage.com/jasonraize/ (accessed via the Internet Archives, 6 June 2010).
- Jessica Simpson and Jason Raize in Concert. Dir. Jeb Brian. 1 hr. The Disney Channel, 2000.
- Jones, Kenneth. “Bizet and Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones Seduces at NYC’s York Jan. 26-28.” Playbill.com, 26 January 2001.
- Jones, Kenneth. “Jason Raize, Broadway’s Original Simba in The Lion King, Dead at 28.” Playbill.com, 9 February 2004.
- Jones, Kenneth. “Life of Lion King‘s Jason Raize Celebrated April 8 at New Amsterdam.” Playbill.com, 8 April 2004.
- “Keeping It Wild with Jason Raize Episode Guide.” AOL Television (accessed 14 September 2009).
- “Keeping It Wild with Jason Raize Episode Guide.” LocateTV (accessed 27 November 2009).
- “The Kitchen.” Independent Television Service.
- Leonard, John. “Urban Legends.” New York Magazine, 18 June 2001.
- Merolla, James A. “Young Actor Dies.” The Sun Chronicle, 11 February 2004.
- “Scholarship Information.” Orpheus Theatre website. Accessed 5 September 2020.
- Pacheco, Patrick. “Raize of Light.” InTheater, 23 January 1998, 16-19.
- The Paul Simon Album: Broadway Sings the Best of Paul Simon. Released 8 September 1998.
- Stagebill for The Lion King, 1997.
- Talk City chat, 1 June 1998.
- United Nations. “Press Briefing: Press Conference by UN Environment Programme,” 26 October 1999. Accessed 11 February 2010.
- Walt Disney Pictures. “Brother Bear Production Information.” B98.5 FM (accessed via the Internet Archives, 5 September 2020).
- Warren, Marc. “The Two Kings of Pride Rock: Jason Raize and Samuel E. Wright.” Afro-American Newspaper, date unknown.
- Williams, Jeannie. “Stars Stand Up to be Counted for Kosovo.” USA Today, 5 May 1999. Accessed 20 November 2009.
- ZoogDisney chat, 10 July 2000.
Most of all, I thank Jason Raize for inspiring this site through his rare talent and his incredible stage presence. I will remain forever grateful for his kind words and support that have made the many years I’ve spent on this web endeavor well worth it.