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BWW Review: JASON ROBERT BROWN Searches for Hope in Uncertain Times at 54 Below

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JRB Celebrates the Release of His first Vinyl Album

BWW Review: JASON ROBERT BROWN Searches for Hope in  Uncertain Times at 54 Below

Theatre lore tells us that in the 1920s when George Gershwin was invited to parties he would perform his own songs. He would improvise elaborate variations on "Swanee" or "Fascinatin' Rhythm" or "Sweet and Low Down." He would astound the partygoers with these complicated re-inventions. Somewhere in the middle of Jason Robert Brown'S show tonight at 54 Below, the composer kicked off "King of the World" from Songs For a New World. I imagine it's what those long-ago partygoers felt like listening to Gershwin, for it was, indeed, a re-invention of one of Brown's most enduring hits. But it wasn't a dazzling complication of the tune. Instead, it was almost a simplification, or rather a clarification of the dramatic intent that was always there; to illustrate the descent into madness of a prisoner.

In many ways, Mr. Brown's show focused on the metaphorical prison we are all just emerging from as we slowly return to something resembling our former lives. As he pointed out, as much as we try to put the pieces back in place, there are simply things that have gone away, maybe for good. Maybe not. No one can really be sure. His lyrics have always been a glimpse inside a mind that obsesses on the big questions. But in light of the traumatic year the world has been through, they seem ripe with new meanings about where we've been and where we're heading.

The show is a celebration of Jason Robert Brown's first-ever release of a vinyl album, Coming From inside the House: A Virtual SubCulture Concert. The SubCulture Concerts are unfortunately one of the things that have gone away as a result of the pandemic. One of the highlights of this show was a song from that album, "Sanctuary", which was written before the pandemic, but eerily describes some of its most potent terrors. It is built around a motif meant to emulate the sound of passing ambulances. The song was very special because Jason Robert Brown was joined by his wife, Georgia Stitt, and his daughters Susannah and Molly.

He opened his show with a song called "Hope," which detailed how very difficult it is to find that quality in such divided times. We were also treated to a new song from his musical The Connector, which was supposed to have been produced in 2020. The song "See Yourself" is a hopeful preview. Another premiere was his tune "Mary Mallon," a terrific scene-in-song told from the point of view of the woman known to history as "Typhoid Mary." And he brought down the house with an exuberant rendition of "I Love Betsy" from Honeymoon in Vegas.BWW Review: JASON ROBERT BROWN Searches for Hope in  Uncertain Times at 54 Below

He closed out the evening with three songs from his album How We React and How We Recover. "Wait Til You See What's Next," "Melinda" and "All Things in Time," provided a hopeful, if not quite happy ending to a really great evening of songs from one of our finest dramatists. Among composers who are still creating for the stage, Jason Robert Brown is probably the finest pianist of the lot, as he proved ably in this fine evening of nimble-fingered tunes.

He was also helped out by one of the best bands in show business. Gary Sieger, Randy Landau, Jamie Eblen, and Lisette Santiago pivoted from R&B to Salsa to Blues to straightforward show tunes with amazing dexterity and creativity. It was a joy to hear such startlingly good musicians.

It's been seven years since Jason Robert Brown and his band were last at 54 Below. Here's hoping it won't take so long to get them back again.

For the latest on Jason Robert Brown, visit his website, jasonrobertbrown.com. To get tickets for more fine acts at Feinstein's 54 Below visit 54below.com.


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