Jeff Bowen (born August 30, 1971, in Baltimore, Maryland) is an American composer, lyricist and actor. He is best known as one of the authors and stars of the Broadway musical [title of show], for which he won an OBIE Award, as well as a GLAAD Media nomination and, along with his cast mates, a Drama League nomination for Distinguished Performance by an Ensemble. He was awarded the Jim Owles Human Rights Award and was named one of the 100 most influential people in OUT MAGAZINE. He has written music and lyrics for Villains Tonight! for the Walt Disney Company, the Easter Bonnet competition for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Actors Fund 125th Anniversary Gala, the Vineyard Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Gala, the 53rd Annual Drama Desk Awards, Broadway in South Africa, and Broadway Bares 18: Wonderland. He has composed music for several shows at P.S. 122 including Avant-Garde-A-Rama in Sparklevision, Hello, My Name Is Avant-Garde-A-Rama; Sparklefest 2000 at Dixon Place; The A-Train Plays;and the film Boat Mime. As an actor he has performed works at The O'Neill Center, manhattan theatre source, Ars Nova, the Vineyard Theatre and appeared in the Actors Fund benefit of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the August Wilson. He co-wrote and starred in the web series, "the [title of show] show" as well as scoring and performing its theme song. He is currently developing a television show for ABC with his collaborator Hunter Bell. He is a proud member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Actors Equity Association, the Writers Guild Association, the Dramatists Guild of America, Yale Dramat, and National Audubon Society.
Bowen attended college at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with his life partner Michael Berresse.
[title of Jeff Bowen interview]
With the self-referential and meta nature of [title of show], the temptation is to write an interview with the songwriter/lyricist/co-star Jeff Bowen in the style in which the show was written. That would mean an interview about an interview about an interview. But heck, Bowen's been spending his life in that mode since the show began Off-Broadway (it arrives on Broadway July 5 at the Lyceum). I gave him a break and just chatted like normal folk. It was expedient, if far less clever than the infinitely clever [title].
Question: Are you extremely excited about [title of show] opening on Broadway?
Jeff Bowen: This is so beyond the gold medal for us. The fact that we got into the New York Musical Theatre Festival and got to do the show that we created with our friends was like winning, so everything beyond that has just been an adventure, the fun adventure of new things. We all have felt successful for a long time now. This doesn't necessarily feel like, "Now, we finally did it. Now we're successful." We've always had this feeling of contentment and happiness, so it's great — it's just another layer of icing on the cake for us. It's delicious icing, God knows.
Q: Does it blow your mind to have taken this idea so far?
Bowen: On one side it is kind of mind-boggling, but on the other it kind of makes sense because the journey sort of dictated where the show wanted to go, so there is a part of me that feels like it is sort of a natural progression to have the show try to make its way to the Great White Way. There's something fun about that. But yeah, as far as meta goes, it is pretty amazing that it has indeed followed this journey.
Q: How did you and your co-star and collaborator Hunter Bell get together?
Bowen: Hunter and I met as actors in 1995 doing a production of Good News in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I was in the chorus, and he was one of the big equity stars. We became friends. We didn't really start collaborating as writers till about five or six years after that. We started working with Susan Blackwell who is in the show. I was working for a talent management company, and she was one of their clients, and I started writing music for her boyfriend, who is now her husband. He was doing Blue Man Group at the time, and I got involved doing music for this downtown art scene, P.S. 122, Dixon Place and that kind of avant-garde world. All of us really liked each other and became close friends and were very creative. We loved to write, and from that collaboration, we got the email about the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and [title of show] was born in the midst of that.
Q: Can folks who saw the Off-Broadway production expect a lot of changes?
Bowen: Not a lot of changes, but it is hard to tell. Because I'm so up inside of it, it's kind of like you don't notice your puppy growing up — you're watching it grow up every day. I'm sure there is evolution there, I'm just not sure how much or how little or how the outside world will perceive it.
Q: You studied theatre and music at Stetson University in Florida. What was your very first foray into show business?
Bowen: When I was in middle school, the school was throwing a party for the cafeteria ladies, and at the time, I was doing Ed Grimley impersonations because I was really into Martin Short, and somehow the librarian knew that I did this, and they asked if I would come and do an Ed Grimley sketch for these women. I did it, and they laughed, and that was it. I was like, "Performing's fun! People laugh at you."
Q: Who are your influences as a songwriter?
Bowen: My dad is a guitarist, and I was raised listening mostly to fifties and sixties pop, a lot of Elvis, a lot of Ricky Nelson. Most of my influences at a very young age came from the pop music world. My parents weren't into musical theatre. We didn't have any cast albums when I was growing up. I didn't really get into that till I was in high school. Then I developed a deep passion for musicals.
Q: Who is the coolest person you've gotten to meet because of the show?
Bowen: We get to meet a lot of great people. I think that what's been really interesting is that some people have kind of become peers. Like when I was in high school I was obsessed with Joanna Gleason because Into the Woods was happening. In a roundabout way, because my boyfriend was doing The Light in the Piazza with her husband, they came to see [title of show] at the Vineyard. Two years later, I'm getting emails from Joanna trying to set up a game night at her house. If I'd have known in high school that I'd be trying to plan a game night with Joanna Gleason, I couldn't imagine what journey I'd have to take to get to this day. Those kind of opportunities have been crazy, like we were backstage at the Drama Desk, and Patti LuPone came up to Hunter and I and introduced herself to us. She actually approached us and said, "Hi, Jeff and Hunter, I'm Patti LuPone." And that was crazy. We were like, "This happened all wrong. We were supposed to meet you, not you meet us."
Q: [title of show] has been embraced by young people. How did that come about?
Bowen: Somewhere along the line — I think it was before the end of the Vineyard run — we started realizing that the show was really speaking to high school and college students because they were at that time in their lives where they were trying to figure out how to take risks, how to be themselves, how to define what their art is —especially young people trying to be writers. And, we were getting this fan mail, these letters from people who were moved and inspired and supportive and believing. That stuff was blowing our minds. This very specific world we'd created was reaching out to these people in a way that we didn't know would happen. By inspiring them, they continue to inspire us. The inspiration chain we call it.