Jennifer Ashley Tepper shares how theater led to social change in The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 4

Jennifer Ashley Tepper recently released her new book The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 4. The latest edition of the best selling Untold Stories of Broadway series. This version was released on March 9 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Broadway shutdown. The Untold Stories of Broadway, Volume 4 is an oral history which includes over 30 new interviews. It explores how shows like Fiddler on the Roof, Falsettos, and A Raisin in the Sun fought for social justice through art. The book also digs into the funniest bloopers from Les Misérables. And the craziest legends from Studio 54’s days as a nightclub. It also keeps in mind how politics have affected theatre. And reflects how has Broadway made it through other tough times in history. YEM spoke with Jennifer Ashley Tepper about the Broadway secrets explored in the new book!

Young Entertainment Mag: You’ve released the fourth edition of The Untold Stories of Broadway. What can readers expect from this new edition? 

Jennifer Ashley Tepper: I was so excited in this volume to get to explore the stories of the Imperial, Jacobs, Studio 54, Minskoff, Friedman, and Golden Theatres. As well as the Fallen Five: the five theaters that were demolished in 1982 to build the Marriott Marquis. The fourth volume is filled with new tales from almost 300 theatre professionals I’ve interviewed. As well as many of my own discoveries. I wrote the majority of this volume during the pandemic. So there are lots of stories from Broadway history that relate to the past year. And all that’s been going on, in different ways. And it was thrilling to get to dive into the stories of shows including Fiddler on the Roof, Dreamgirls, Falsettos, The Lion King, Hair, Grease, and so many more in volume four. 

YEM: Were you always interested in musical theater? How did you get your start in the industry?

Jennifer: I was always interested in musical theatre. From the time I was taken to see local shows in Florida when I was a kid. I started going to theatre camp when I was 9 years old. And from that point on became obsessed with collecting cast albums. Learning about shows from books, watching the Tony Awards, and more. I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. And from the moment I moved to New York, the city was truly my campus. I saw every show I could and taught myself so much about New York and theatre on top of what I was learning in class. I had several great internships and volunteer opportunities during college. During my senior year, I had the opportunity to intern with the creators of the musical [title of show], which is really how I got my professional start.

YEM: How did The Untold Stories of Broadway come to be? How did you first get involved in writing this book series? 

Jennifer: Working on [title of show] on Broadway when I was 22 years old was the experience of a lifetime. Spending so much time at the Lyceum Theatre, Broadway’s oldest continually operating house, was incredibly inspiring. I would explore the dressing rooms, the nooks and crannies backstage, the little elements left from previous shows, the details on the walls.

I had the opportunity to sit in every seat of the house during different performances. And visit the Shubert Archive above the theater. All of this really made me think about the shows that had been at the Lyceum before us and the history built into the building. I wanted to create a book that was a combination of oral history from different kinds of Broadway professionals, At This Theatre, and personal essays. Which made readers feel as connected as I do to the Broadway theaters as important and fascinating living pieces of history.

YEM: How do you find resources for these Untold Stories? Are there books or articles you’ve found? Or do you go directly to members of the Broadway community to find these stories? 

Jennifer: When I’m doing research, I use lots of theatre books. Multiple newspaper archives, the New York Public Library, the Internet Broadway Database, and much more. After interviewing nearly 300 people I find that a lot of my interviews are good resources and a jumping off point to do more research on a topic.

YEM: What is your favorite Broadway show of all time? 

Jennifer: My favorite Broadway show of all time is Merrily We Roll Along.

YEM: Do you have a favorite Untold Story that you’ve found out from writing these books?

Jennifer: There are just so many! One highlight was a story my hero Hal Prince told me about his Broadway debut as assistant stage manager on a show called Touch and Go in 1949. I had read every Hal Prince book and article and interview and I had never heard that story quite like he told it to me, sitting in his office interviewing him, when I was 27 years old. It was a moment I will always treasure. And I was so thrilled to get to include it in The Untold Stories of Broadway

YEM: Broadway has gone dark for over a year now. How have you stayed connected with the theater community while shows have gone dark? 

Jennifer: Writing The Untold Stories of Broadway Volume 4 during this time has been one thing that’s made me feel very connected to the community, even in the absence of live theatre. In addition to all of the work I’ve done virtually, from working on streamed concerts to giving live interviews, I’ve spent a lot of time in the theatre district observing the area during this time. Chronicling the moment we’re living through as a historian makes me feel connected with the theatre community: past, present, and future.

YEM: What do you plan to do once Broadway comes back? Will you be working on a fifth edition of The Untold Stories of Broadway

Jennifer: I am so excited for our roaring 20s! Reopening 54 Below (where I’m the Creative and Programming Director) successfully, with exciting shows for the new era, will be a huge priority of mine in the year to come. There will be two more volumes of The Untold Stories of Broadway, that cover the remaining theaters that I haven’t written about yet. I have tons of stories in the vault about the Music Box, the Booth, the O’Neill, and more. So excited for the fifth and sixth volume to close out the series!

The Untold Stories of Broadway: Volume 4 is available from Dress Circle Publishing: https://www.dresscirclepublishing.com/

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