Jennifer Hudson posed with Van Dean of Broadway Records during  their collaboration on a cast album of 'The Color Purple.' (Photo: Van Dean)

Jennifer Hudson posed with Van Dean of Broadway Records during their collaboration on a cast album of ‘The Color Purple.’ (Photo: Van Dean)

Van Dean of Broadway Records has made an indelible mark on Broadway over the past four years by steadily releasing some of the best cast albums. He’s also released soundtracks from such hits as NBC’s ‘The Wiz.’ But he has some new surprises for 2016.

Among his recent initiatives is a diversification of the brand to include a debut album, Stopping Time from Nickelodeon pop princess Isabel Moner.

He was also the driving force behind Monkees singer Micky Dolenz’s recent release, A Little Bit Broadway; A Little Bit Rock & Roll.

That should give you some idea where he’s heading in 2016.

To find out more, we caught up with him in the studio where he just supervised the recording of the cast album for The Color Purple featuring Jennifer Hudson. It’s the label’s next release.

TheImproper: Your label is just four years old and your last project was the soundtrack of ‘The Wiz.’ The next is the cast album for the just-opened The Color Purple. How’s that feel?

Dean: “Every project we work on is special in its own way but ‘The Wiz LIVE!’ is certainly the most high profile project we’ve worked on. The Color Purple, along with Matilda, are from shows that have received some of the best critical response in the last five years.

“The Wiz LIVE!” is a continuation of our relationship with NBC Universal after having done ‘Peter Pan LIVE!’ And we welcomed Sony Masterworks as a new partner for ‘The Wiz LIVE!’ They had done ‘The Sound of Music’ TV soundtrack, so our label and theirs are the most experienced in the challenges of turning around a musical live event album in such a short time frame.”

Nickelodeon pop princess Isabel Moner poses with Van Dean. Broadway records produced her debut album 'Stopping Time.' (Photo: Van Dean)

Nickelodeon pop princess Isabel Moner poses with Van Dean. Broadway records produced her debut album ‘Stopping Time.’ (Photo: Van Dean)

IM: When you began the label; what were your intentions and motivations?

Dean: “I first discovered Broadway shows the way that most people do—via cast recordings. Miss Saigon was the first Broadway show I saw when I was in high school. Experiencing live professional theater just ignited something in me; I started more in the writing end of it, learning the business and fine-tuning my craft.

I was producing Off-Broadway and Broadway shows before starting the label. I quickly discovered how hard it is to get a cast recording done in today’s music industry and felt the industry needed another label fighting to preserve these musicals.”

IM: You were just in the studio for The Color Purple recording; how’d that go? How is Jennifer Hudson to work with?

Dean: “She is such a pro. She is extremely focused on the task at hand and blows everyone away with every take. She is also very sweet. I enjoyed exchanging thoughts on various musicals and bands with her.”

IM: In 2015, you also released two non-traditional Broadway albums, Isabela Moner’s first album, Stopping Time, and Micky Dolenz’s Live from 54 Below album A Little Bit Broadway; A Little Bit Rock & Roll. Tell us a bit about each project.

Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, released his latest album of rock and Broadway tunes through Broadway records. (Photo: Micky Dolenz)

Micky Dolenz of the Monkees, released his latest album of rock and Broadway tunes through Broadway records. (Photo: Micky Dolenz)

Dean: “I grew up on Monkees’ reruns, and it was an honor to meet and work with Micky. I first worked with him when he graciously agreed to be a part of our ‘From Broadway With Love’ concert. That concert showed me how amazing his musical theater chops are.

A year later, I contacted Micky and suggested the idea of a concert called “A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock & Roll” with half Broadway and half Monkees songs. He had never performed in front of such an intimate audience as he’d have at 54 Below but he embraced the challenge and the results were pretty magical.

I first met Isabela when she was 10 and in the cast of Evita. I was a co-producer and immediately recognized that she was a unique talent with tremendous potential. We started working on an album with her when she was 11. We took a few songs from those early sessions and combined them with another round of sessions when she was 13 and completed “Stopping Time”.

She has an incredible stage presence and her musicality is beyond what most people twice her age have. She is incredibly impressive and has a long and exciting career ahead of her.”

IM: You also co-conceived and served as lead producer for “From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook.” The show featured 100 Broadway stars, a 40-piece orchestra, and 300-plus children from Newtown. Tell us about that.

Dean: “I grew up 10 miles from Sandy Hook. When the tragic shooting happened, it felt even more personal given my familiarity with the community. Given my experience as a Broadway producer, the obvious answer was for me to use the performing arts to create something very special to help inspire and empower the kids.

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This concert gave them something to work together on with the Broadway performers they admire and provide them with something positive to focus on during a very dark time. We ended up having 700 volunteers work on the concert. It was put together in six weeks and filmed to air later on PBS.

I, along with other members of our core team continue to work with the kids in the community to this day, bringing visiting artists together with the 12.14 Foundation, creating full musical productions in a six-week summer camp every summer. We also offer other performing arts opportunities. The work I do in Sandy Hook/Newtown is easily the most important and meaningful part of my professional life.”

IM: You were also involved in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Tell us a bit about that.

Dean: “We helped raise money for the Broadway production and tour and we released the original Broadway cast recording. This is such a smart, fun and clever show filled with amazing songs. For many of the kids I work with, especially those in Sandy Hook/Newtown, this is the first Broadway show they’ve seen and I am so proud of that fact.

It’s something they will always remember and I couldn’t think of a better introduction to musical theater. It has a great message that is very empowering for kids. This show has a very special place in my heart.”

IM: Broadway Records has also released cast albums for Side Show, The Visit, Doctor Zhivago, Big Fish, A Night With Janis Joplin, Bonnie & Clyde, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, featuring Nick Jonas, Lysistrata Jones and NBC television event ‘Peter Pan Live!’ Why is it so important to try to preserve this music?

Dean: “It takes enormous time, effort, talent and investment from many hundreds of people to put on a Broadway show. But every Broadway show is ephemeral. So it’s up to labels like mine to preserve the art that is created for future generations and for the multitude of musical theater fans who may not be able to make it to Broadway, or to a touring theater, to see all of these quality productions.”

IM: What makes a good Broadway producer?

Dean: “The ability to assess the quality of material and its commercial potential, the ability to collaborate and passion for the art form are of utmost importance. Some of the most important decisions a producer makes are which show to produce, where and when to produce it and when it’s time to close the production. A key skill of a producer, aside from the creative and managerial abilities, is having the people skills to work with investors and to raise money to put on the production.”

IM: What’s in-store for 2016?

Dean: “Many more cast recordings, a production of Anastasia the Musical, an Off-Broadway production that I will be announcing shortly and more albums in our ‘Live at 54 BELOW’ series.”

IM: What’s your dream project?

Dean: “We are working with the 12.14 Foundation to raise funds to build a performing arts center in Newtown, CT as a permanent way to continue our work with the community there.”

For more check out Broadway Records Web Site and be sure to follow IM on Twitter for the latest theater news.

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