Syracuse University Magazine

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Van Dean '96

From Broadway with Love

Van Dean brings Broadway shows to life. As a producer, he finds the material or someone to create the material, hires personnel, brings financial backers together, and manages all aspects of the business end of the production. And in the nearly nine years since starting his producing career, Dean has received five Tony Award nominations, a Grammy Award nomination, and won a 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. “My initial plan had been to write for theater and producing wasn’t even on my radar,” Dean says, “but a friend offered me an opportunity to get involved behind the scenes in an Off-Broadway musical, and one thing led to another.”

A Broadway show can cost $2.5 million to $16 million to produce, so to lessen the financial risk, Dean launched the Broadway Consortium in 2011. Because the investors own a piece of all of the shows produced by the consortium, they aren’t betting on any one show’s fortune. Dean also co-founded Broadway Records, which releases cast albums of Broadway shows and live performances by such Broadway stars as Patti LuPone and Bebe Neuwirth. “I owe much of my success as a producer to the freedom I had at SU to take a wide variety of courses that have all contributed to what I’m doing now,” says Dean, who graduated from Newhouse with a bachelor’s degree in TV and film production. “In addition to my communications courses, I took classes in entrepreneurship, musical theater, music composition, and music industry, all of which gave me the confidence I needed to start my own business.”

Winning a Tony Award in June 2012 propelled Dean to the top of the theater world, but as the year drew to a close, he was called upon to use his skill and experience as a producer to offer support to the residents of Newtown, Connecticut, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I wanted to do something to help, but didn’t know what I could do,” says Dean, who grew up in nearby Trumbull, Connecticut. “Then a friend suggested maybe we should do a benefit concert. I put the word out to ask, ‘Who is with me?’ and within two hours I had 100 volunteers signed up. At that point I knew we were on to something that could be really meaningful.”

From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook took place in January 2013 at the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut. The concert brought together a 42-piece orchestra, more than 100 Broadway stars, and 300 young performers from local dance groups, the Sandy Hook Elementary School third and fourth grades, and the Newtown High School Chamber Choir. The benefit concert, which was broadcast on PBS last July and re-broadcast on the first anniversary of the tragedy, is now available on CD, DVD, and Blu-ray. “We wanted the concert to be uplifting and an outlet for the kids to express themselves,” Dean says. “It was such a life-changing experience that we decided to do a show with the children of Newtown the following summer.”

As promised, Dean helped recruit a team of Broadway professionals who donated their time to work with 86 kids from Newtown, ages 5 to 18, and one Broadway star to present Seussical—a musical written by Lynn Aherns ’70 and Stephen Flaherty based on children’s books by Dr. Seuss—at the Newtown High School last August. The four sold-out performances struck a chord in the community and received national coverage. “It was magical and better than many Broadway shows—you could feel the joy,” Dean says. “We’re hoping to do a big show every summer and maybe have smaller programs throughout the year while we help raise money for a new performing arts center in Newtown.”

Dean says he has always wanted to find ways of giving back, and the Newtown productions have had the most impact on him of anything he has ever done. “Some of the parents told us how much the shows helped their children smile again and find their way back to being kids,” Dean says. “This is a lifelong commitment for me. I’ve become very close with the community—I feel like Newtown is my hometown now.”       —Christine Yackel



Honors

Tony Award Winner
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Best Revival of a Musical, 2012

Tony Award Nominations
Catch Me If You Can, Best Musical, 2011
Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Best Revival of a Play, 2012
Evita, Best Revival of a Musical, 2012
Matilda the Musical, Best Musical, 2013
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Best Revival of a Musical, 2013

Grammy Award Nomination
Matilda the Musical, Best Musical Theater Album, 2014