By STEVE RAPPACH
The Weirton Daily Times
WEIRTON, W.Va. — Greg Anthony Rassen has accomplished quite a bit in his music career. He has worked with some of the top orchestras in the country and has lent his talents to singers, television shows and Broadway musicals throughout nearly two decades in the business.
This weekend, though, Rassen was looking at another career first: a Tony Award.
Rassen, a native of Chester and 1995 graduate of Oak Glen High School, was among those nominated for Broadway’s most prestigious honor, during the 71st-annual Tony Awards on Sunday. He was nominated in the category of Best Orchestrations, along with Bill Elliott, for their work in the musical “Bandstand.”
The award went to Alex Lacamoire for “Dear Evan Hansen.”
For Rassen, the nomination was a dream come true, along with the excitement of being able to attend the ceremony, which he said he watched via TV while growing up in Chester.
“It’s unbelievably exciting,” Rassen said. “When I was in high school, I would watch the Tony Awards every year from Chester, West Virginia. And so, that was like the best of the best, that was my only view into professional theatre watching the Tony Awards in high school. Because, you know, Chester, West Virginia, small town, did theatre in high school.
“I didn’t really get to Pittsburgh to watch national tours or anything, so the Tony Awards were kind of my view of professional theatre, so to now get to go to the Tony Awards as a nominee is kind of unbelievable. It’s pretty great.”
Rassen said he initially considered music as a hobby and entered college to become a pharmacist, but then realized he could make a career in music after all and chose to follow that path.
“Where we grew up, it’s very blue collar,” Rassen said. “I wouldn’t necessarily call Chester an artsy place per se, so it’s not like somebody told me I couldn’t make it a career so why would I choose that path? So I just assumed that I had to get a quote-unquote ‘real job,’ so I started to go to college for pharmacy, actually, and then realized that it was kind of ridiculous for me. So I changed to music and I don’t think I would have imagined I’d ever gotten this far.”
Rassen began his experience in theater, initially, with summer stock theater in Warner, Pa., and later working in Beach Haven, N.J., and Morgantown, before attending the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, where he graduated with a Master’s of Music in Orchestral Conducting in 2002.
A year later, Rassen worked his first post-college musical while on tour with “The Lion King,” and hit Broadway in 2006 with “A Chorus Line.”
He has also been credited with work in other musicals including “An American in Paris,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Little Mermaid” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella. He also has worked off-Broadway shows including “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Brundibar.”
Musicals, both on and off-Broadway, are just a portion of what Rassen has handled during his nearly 20 years n the business.
As an arranger and orchestrator, Rassen has worked with the top Pops orchestras throughout the United States, including Boston, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.
He has also written arrangements for several musical artists, including Ashley Brown, Jeremy Jordan, Norm Lewis, Ashford and Simpson, Ozomatli, Darren Criss and Michael Cavanaugh.
His works have also spread into television, having received credits on “The View,”“Live with Kelly and Michael” (now Live with Kelly and Ryan), and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”
Rassen has also arranged many large-scale works for German-American pianist Andre Previn. Among those includes a “Concerto for Orchestra,” which will premiere later this year.
As for his Tony-nominated musical, composed by Richard Oberacker with book and lyrics by Oberacker and Robert Taylor, “Bandstand” is about a group of veterans who return home after World War II and form a musical group in Cleveland in hopes of competing in a national radio contest in New York City, combining elements of swing, jitterbug and bebop. While they rehearse and prepare for potential fame and fortune, the group also faces adversity, personal conflicts and the lingering effects of the war.
“Its about a group of veterans who form a band to win a contest to be in New York City to be in the movies,” Rassen said. “Part of winning the contest is about being the band, finding their own heal from what they went through in the war through music.”
Rassen, who also serves as the musical’s music supervisor and arranger, said “Bandstand” essentially is about orchestrations, which happened to hit home for him, considering his role in the show.
“For me, this show is literally about making music and how music heals a person, and how describing the process of putting together a band, so the show is essentially about orchestration, music and what it does for us,” Rassen said.
Originally opening at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J. in 2015, “Bandstand” has played at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City since making its Broadway debut on March 31.
The musical has received solid reviews from critics, and Rassen has also been recognized with other honors.
Along with the Tony nomination, he and Elliott won Outstanding Orchestrations at the 2017 Drama Desk Awards, held last Sunday, and were also nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award, also for Outstanding Orchestrations.
In addition to Elliott and Rassen’s nomination, “Bandstand” also was nominated for Best Choreography, which director/choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler received the nod.
Rassen is the son of Calcutta resident Paul Anthony, a former police officer and councilman in Midland, Pa., who previously served as village administrator in Wellsville and currently works with the Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
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