I believe that theatre is an experience unlike any other in this multi-media age.” – Jason Raize, TalkCity chat
Bucks County Playhouse
When Jason was 18, he performed in the 1994 summer season at the historic Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Jason’s credits at “America’s Most Famous Summer Theater” included The King and I (as Lun Tha; directed by Guil Fisher), Oklahoma! (as Jess/Dream Curly), The Rocky Horror Show (as Rocky; directed by D.C. Mann), and La Cage aux Folles. He was also remembered for stepping into the title role in Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s Phantom (directed by R.A. Miller) at the last minute when the lead fell ill.
Jesus Christ Superstar
Jason joined the national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar as Pontius Pilate in 1995. This production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice’s 1970 rock opera featured Ted Neeley as Jesus and Carl Anderson as Judas, both reprising their roles from the 1973 film. Jason succeeded Styx’s Dennis DeYoung as Pilate and received rave reviews:
- “It was, however, the purple-clad Jason Raize who nearly stole the show with a dramatic, soulful reading of Pontius Pilate.” – Albany Times Union
- “Jason Raize . . . manages to create a complex Pontius Pilate.” – Newsday
- “Jason Raize, like Anderson, gave an all-around singing-acting performance as Pilate.” – Dayton Daily News
Photos above are by Richard Feldman and appeared in the Jesus Christ Superstar 1995-1996 A.D. Tour souvenir program.
A lot of actors speak about long runs ‘making them’ as an actor, I did a year’s tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, playing Pontius Pilate. We did a tour with Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson. We toured everywhere with that show. The good and the bad. It’s just like life, like a job, but more exciting for people who like the performance world cause it’s live. Your heart pounds when you miss a step, or someone goes up on a line, people ask if each show is different. And, it is. We give a different performance every time. Cause every audience has a different energy and the actors might be in a different mood before they start.” – Jason
In 1997, Jason found the role that would bring him national attention: adult Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King. Disney Theatrical Productions hired visionary director Julie Taymor to stage the hit animated feature about a lion cub who flees from home, then grows up to realize he must face his past and become king. With Taymor’s imaginative vision featuring puppetry, masks (created with Michael Curry), and costumes; Garth Fagan’s choreography; and a score by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Taymor, and Hans Zimmer, The Lion King became one of Broadway’s biggest hits of the 1990s.
My dream was to originate a role on Broadway, anywhere in a new musical production. So taking a property like Lion King, a classic coming of age tale, and after hearing Julie give me the pitch for the musical and giving me her sketches, it was amazing! She thought of a new way to bring this story to people. I felt like I was working on something big and that I had a lot to contribute to it. Each actor did that, they were given so much room to bring the personalities to the role they were playing. Very rare opportunity.” – Jason
Production photos above are by Joan Marcus.
Jason felt a connection with Simba from the first time he saw the movie. Like Simba, Jason had lost a parent when he was young. He also identified with the character’s anxiety and desire for direction. Even when his contract with another show nearly prevented him from auditioning for Simba, Jason knew that he had to have the part. He showed up at an open call knowing he couldn’t be turned away and auditioned with Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” After three weeks of callbacks, Jason won the role of his dreams.
To prepare to play Simba, Jason watched a variety of nature shows to observe the animal kingdom and to study the attitude of lions. “Animals walk the plains and savannas without fear,” Jason said. “That’s something we try to bring to the stage – that lack of fear of the world around us.”
Photos 1-4 were published in The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway (1 -2 by Per Briehagen; 3-4 by Kenneth Van Sickle). Photos 5-8 appeared on Jason’s official website.
Jason and the cast headed to Minneapolis in summer 1997 for The Lion King‘s out-of-town tryout at the Orpheum Theatre, an experience which Jason said helped to bring the cast closer together. By then, The Lion King was building positive buzz in advance of its New York opening. When the show opened on Broadway at the newly-renovated New Amsterdam Theatre on November 13, 1997, The New York Times called it “one of the most memorable, moving and original theatrical extravaganzas in years.” The Lion King quickly became the hottest ticket in New York.
Jason’s performance also received critical praise:
- “Jason Raize emerges as a matinee idol in his dashing portrayal of Simba.” –The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
- “Jason Raize’s young-adult Simba is pumped with pride, passion and the hormones of a teen-age Broadway heartthrob.” –The Columbus Dispatch
- “As the adult Simba, Jason Raize was ideally cast and possesses one of the most handsome and compelling faces I’ve seen on stage in recent years. I can’t compare his stage presence with that of anyone other than, perhaps, James Naughton in Chicago, or Peter Gallagher in the revival of Guys and Dolls.” – The Post and Courier of Charleston
In fall 1997, Jason performed his solo “Endless Night” on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, an appearance which he said “single handedly made my career!” This performance was the first of Jason’s many television appearances with the show. He also became the cover story for a January 1998 edition of InTheater magazine (he would again appear on the cover with Samuel E. Wright in 1999).
The Lion King was nominated for eleven Tony Awards in 1998 and went home with six wins (noted in bold):
- Best Musical: The Lion King
- Best Direction of a Musical: Julie Taymor
- Best Choreography: Garth Fagan
- Best Book of a Musical: Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
- Best Original Score Written for the Theatre: Music and Lyrics by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer
- Best Orchestrations: Robert Elhai, David Metzger, and Bruce Fowler
- Best Costume Design: Julie Taymor
- Best Lighting Design: Donald Holder
- Best Scenic Design: Richard Hudson
- Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Samuel E. Wright
- Best Actress Featured Actress in a Musical: Tsidii Le Loka
The original cast album, on which Jason performed in “Endless Night,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” and “He Lives in You,” won a Grammy Award.
Jason remained with The Lion King for three years, playing his final performance on August 20, 2000.
When we were creating this show, we developed our own community. We had a sense of almost being in a bubble. We couldn’t really explain what we were doing to our friends–all we were thinking was that we hoped people would like it. And the result was this amazing piece that we are all incredibly blessed to be a part of.” – Jason
Broadway Sings Elton John
On April 3, 2000, Jason appeared in This Is Your Song: Broadway Sings Elton John, a benefit concert for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Hosted by Nathan Lane and Christine Baranski, the event took place at the New Amsterdam Theatre.
Jason sang a stirring rendition of “Levon” from 1971’s Madman Across the Water. Other performers at the event included Sandra Bernhard, Betty Buckley, Mario Cantone, Lea DeLaria, Ann Duquesnay, Linda Eder, Victor Garber, Deborah Gibson, Sam Harris, Heather Headley, Jennifer Holliday, Jeremy Kushnier, Andrea McArdle, Orfeh, Adam Pascal, and Sherie René Scott. Elton John also performed a few numbers including “Circle of Life” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
This Is Your Song raised $436,000 for the two charities. A DVD of the event is available for purchase, with proceeds benefiting Broadway Cares.
Jason returned to the New York stage in early 2001 to play Joe in York Theatre Company‘s concert presentation of the 1943 musical Carmen Jones, presented as part of York’s Musicals in Mufti series. Carmen Jones reimagines Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen among African Americans in the American South, pairing Bizet’s original music with a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The production played January 26-28, 2001, at the York Theatre/Theatre at St. Peter’s.
Musicals in Mufti is dedicated to presenting rarely-seen musicals, and this production of Carmen Jones marked the first time the show had been seen in New York in decades. In a TheaterMania feature, York Theatre Artistic Director Jim Morgan said, “We’re privileged and incredibly excited to be doing Carmen Jones. It’s a legendary classic of American musical theater, and a landmark in Mr. Hammerstein’s career.”
As Joe, Jason’s songs included “You Talk Jus’ Like My Maw,” “Dere’s A Cafe On De Corner,” “Dis Flower,” and “If You Would Only Come Away.” The cast also featured Suzzanne Douglas (TV’s The Parent ‘Hood) and Anika Noni Rose (later a Tony Award-winner for Caroline, or Change).
Friends of this site said:
- “Considering they only received their scripts this Monday and went out to give their first performance Friday, I’m truly impressed. They are [all] extremely talented individuals to pull it off so well.” -Tracy
- “I was thoroughly impressed with Jason’s vocal ability, since I’d only heard him sing pop music, and what an opportunity this was for him to show his even broader range. I’m talking operatic here, people! All along, I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe he can sing like that.’ I was completely mesmerized by the sound of his voice, that he could have sung the alphabet and made me cry.” -Tess
Other Stage Credits
Jason’s additional stage credits include:
- As You Like It, as Orlando, directed by Nancy Fales Garrett for the Shakespeare in the Valley summer program for teens
- The Fantasticks, as Matt, directed by Mary-Jo Morris
- Gypsy, as Tulsa, directed by Mitzi Hamilton and starring Laurie Gamache
- Little Shop of Horrors, as Seymour, directed by Nina Cochran
- Miss Saigon on tour
- Oliver!, as Noah, directed by Steven Smeltzer
- Roar of the Greasepaint…, as Corky, directed by Jack Gardner
- The Sound of Music, as Rolf
- Twelfth Night, as Feste, directed by Nancy Fales Garrett for the Shakespeare in the Valley summer program for teens
- West Side Story, as Chino, directed by Sammy Dallas Bayes at the Orpheus Theatre (Oneonta, NY)
Productions are listed alphabetically, as chronology is difficult to verify. Most credits came from a resume on Jason’s official site and have been supplemented with details where available; others came from Jason’s first In Theater magazine profile.