Jonathan Larson: “The opposite of war isn’t peace; it’s creation.” ― Will Van Dyke & Jen Tepper Part of NYTW’s Gala, Featuring “Rent”

A lot of exciting things are on tap for “Un-Block The Music” this year. While it is too soon to discuss details, I can still give thanks to the people who have entrusted me with their stories. Two of those people are Will Van Dyke and Jennifer Ashley Tepper. Why do I bring up these two in particular? They are part of New York Theatre Workshop’s upcoming virtual gala commemorating the 25th anniversary of Rent (tied for first when it comes to “Un-Block The Music’s” all-time favorite musicals).The presentation of the late Jonathan Larson’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning musical will air March 2 at 8 PM and remain available to stream through March 6.

The show will have an all-star lineup featuring original cast members, Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Best of all, Stephen Oremus is the music supervisor and Will is the music director. “Stephen is the reason I have a career” Will told “Un-Block The Music”. The two met when Will was 19 years old and still in college. All these years later, “Stephen still calls me young Will. It’s hilarious. I met him when he was working on Avenue Q and he needed an assistant. I was working for composer Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family, Big Fish) who introduced us.” Will then worked with Stephen on his first job out of college, the first national tour of Wicked. “Stephen has known me for a real long time.”

Will’s involvement with Rent was a natural. While Stephen was the music director of Rent Live on NBC, Will did the last off-Broadway production of Rent in 2011. (Will holds the show close to his heart for more than one reason…it’s how he met his husband. “Un-Block The Music” loves a good romantic story!) Anyway… “Stephen wanted to get someone (to help on this event) who knew the show.” He organized the whole thing then Will took the reins, organized the band and got the show all done. The presentation is expected to be a beautiful one with the story of Jonathan Larson’s legacy sprinkled throughout the musical performances.

The plan for a virtual presentation did not intimidate Will. Afterall, he was the musical director for MCC Theater’s Miscast this past September. Will admits, “there is a learning curve and that is another part of the reason Stephen asked me to come onto the project. We also have similar ideas about how we want things to sound.”

Jennifer Ashley Tepper is also involved with the upcoming gala Jennifer is producer of the musicals Be More Chill, Broadway Bounty Hunter, and Love In Hate Nation.  As the Creative and Programming Director at Feinstein’s/54 Below, she still finds time to author The Untold Stories of Broadway book series. Long before a pandemic was ever imagined Jennifer directed The Jonathan Larson Project, a concert in 2018 that featured previously unrecorded music by Jonathan. I asked her why she thinks Rent has a lasting quality and why it is the right show to feature for the gala.

 She said, “During this time of isolation and hardship for everyone in the theater community, it’s been so meaningful to connect about Rent and its continuing relevance. The musical’s impact is staggering, and during the pandemic, it’s been fascinating to discover new waves of significance in the way Jonathan Larson wrote about people living with illness, the struggle for social justice, the intention to connect through art despite obstacles, and so much more. I am thrilled to be part of NYTW’s celebration of Rent, with such an incredible group of artists, from original team members to fellow Rentheads.”

Another interesting note about this virtual gala: While you are encouraged to buy tickets to support NYTW, there will also be a lottery through TodayTix Winners will be notified February 23 at 12 noon Eastern time and will have one hour to claim their ticket on the TodayTix platform. What is most interesting is that 25 years ago, Rent pioneered the first Broadway ticket lottery. However, if you don’t win or just want to donate, tickets begin at $25.

In addition to those original Rent performers, there is a whole lineup of artists that include Sebastian Arcleus, Annaleigh Ashford, Brandon Victor Dixon, Lin-Manual Miranda, Anais Mitchell, Telly Leung, and on and on.

The show will be directed by Andy Senor Jr. who was in the Broadway production of Rent as Angel. In 2014, he directed and produced Rent in Cuba. That was the first Broadway musical co-production between the United States and Cuba in 50 years.

And if you love the show, as I know you will, become a fan, like “Un-Block The Music” of Will Van Dyke. He has some surprises up his sleeve this spring. Let’s just say he has been doing a lot of writing. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can check out archived “Un-Block The Music” stories about many of those mentioned in this piece.

Two of my many favorite quotes from Jonathan Larson

“In these dangerous times, where it seems that the world is ripping apart at the seams, we all can learn how to survive from those who stare death squarely in the face every day and [we] should reach out to each other and bond as a community, rather than hide from the terrors of life at the end of the millennium.”

“No day but today”                                                

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