Composer/Musical Director: Jason Robert Brown
Reviewer: Ava Eldred
Probably best known for his cult musicals The Last 5 Years and Songs for a New World, Jason Robert Brown has been contemporary musical theatre’s worst kept secret for the best part of a decade. This one-off outing, as part of BBC Radio’s prestigious Friday Night is Music Night, is a sophisticated concert that celebrates his wealth of material, from the political to the frankly ridiculous, and leaves the packed-out audience in the palm of his hand.
With Robert Brown alternating between the grand piano and the conductor’s podium, this is a concert which feels both intimate and sprawling in scale. Opening with the Hope, a beautiful new song written the morning after the last presidential election, he sets the tone for the evening immediately – this is grown up, and honest, and the audience are immediately on side. He takes full advantage of the excellent BBC Concert Orchestra, particularly in suites from Bridges of Madison County and Trumpet of the Swan, and although both pieces fit surprisingly well into a musical theatre programme, one can’t help but wish the time away in favour of another song.
In any evening such as this, so much rides on the quality of the guest artists, who, here, are universally first rate. Betsy Wolfe’s performance is a true highlight, with her rendition of I Can Do Better Than That from The Last 5 Years inspiring the first standing ovation of the evening. Rachel Tucker and Norm Lewis are both vocally excellent, but so many of the evening’s most touching moments come when Robert Brown is singing himself. To hear a composer perform their own work is a somewhat rare treat, and the fact that Robert Brown is visibly enjoying himself only elevates the joy of watching him find the nuances in his own writing as well as any actor might.
The opportunity to perform with an orchestra of this size lends itself perfectly to a a certain type of programme, and while orchestrations from Parade and Honeymoon in Vegas really come in to their own in this setting, long-time fans may miss more of his old material, with The Last 5 Years and Parade appearing only briefly. This concert has clearly been crafted to introduce London to the future possibilities for Jason Robert Brown, and he hints at his hopes for London productions of his shows that are yet to reach the UK.
From a song about a skydiving Elvis impersonator to Fifty Years Long, a tender ballad written for a couple on their fiftieth anniversary, Robert Brown takes us seamlessly from the ridiculous to the sublime with wit and humility. Contemporary musical theatre’s favourite little secret just played the London Palladium, and he hit every note.
Reviewed on 11th April 2018 | Image: Contributed