Review: Jason Robert Brown Shares His Gifts at OC's Segerstrom Center

Joined by the extraordinary Mykal Kilgore, the Tony Award-winning composer presented a rousing retrospective of some of his stellar résumé highlights

By: May. 03, 2023
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Review: Jason Robert Brown Shares His Gifts at OC's Segerstrom Center

It's a rare treat when an actual living legend of musical theatre comes to our neck of the woods to talk about his work, let alone perform some of these works live in an intimate cabaret setting. But that is exactly what took place here at Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa over three consecutive evenings that began April 27, 2023.

Filled to the brim with songs from an impressive repertoire, the concert gave both fans and newbies a spectacular glimpse into one genius' undeniable gifts. To say I was bowled over by this concert---part of SCFTA's outstanding 2022-2023 Cabaret Series---is an understatement.

Jason Robert Brown---the Tony Award-winning composer of PARADE and THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY---finally arrived at the Samueli Theatre after a two-year delay initially caused, of course, by the COVID pandemic shutdowns.

In the two years that had passed, Brown has been quite busy: the music he composed for a new Broadway stage adaptation of Billy Crystal's MR. SATURDAY NIGHT finally played in 2022, the film adaptation of his youth-centric musical 13 was released by Netflix, and, currently, Brown is enjoying a rediscovered hit with the brand new, critically-acclaimed revival of his 1998 musical PARADE featuring Ben Platt.

Alongside those shows, Brown's extensive and impressive résumé also includes creating the music for shows that have received quite a rabid following, beginning with SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (1995), followed by THE LAST FIVE YEARS (2002), URBAN COWBOY (2003), and HONEYMOON IN VEGAS (2015).

And, personally, I had the privilege of being an audience member when Brown conducted the orchestra of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY when the show played at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre. I also belong to a male choral group, MenAlive, that performed his original composition "Chanukah Suite" at one of our holiday concerts.

Not since the late Stephen Sondheim himself came to Orange County to speak and reminisce during the once-in-a-lifetime INTO THE WOODS reunion concert many, many moons ago has the city of Costa Mesa played host to one of the most prolific musical geniuses working in the musical theatre genre today.

And not only did Brown sing stirringly (and play piano like a mad genius) for a supposedly extended concert that surpassed Segerstrom's 90 minute cabaret cap, he brought with him one of the best male voices I have ever heard in my entire life, the supremely talented Grammy nominee Mykal Kilgore, whom I personally discovered via Instagram during many countless hours of scrolling through viral videos during lockdown and was instantly enamored and awed that such a voice exists.

Kilgore released his debut album, A Man Born Black in 2019 and his prior musical theater credits include MOTOWN THE MUSICAL, THE BOOK OF MORMON, HAIR, SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, INTO THE WOODS, and SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE. He also appeared in the Live NBC telecasts of THE WIZ! And JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.

Together, the two made jaw-dropping magic, accompanied by Linda Taylor on guitar, Trey Henry on upright bass, and Jamie Eblen on drums.

Review: Jason Robert Brown Shares His Gifts at OC's Segerstrom Center The entire show had me enraptured, not only for Brown's body of work, but from the amazing musicianship the audience was experiencing thanks to Brown and his fellow bandmates. It's safe to assume that a large percentage of the audience knew Brown specifically, but this being the OC, the cabaret audiences also tend to be filled with older folks with lots of disposal income to just pay for season tickets to the cabaret series... and then hold on for dear life for what they're about to experience.

Those season ticket holders lucked out, because Brown and company provided the OC a jolt of amazing sounds over the course of three nights.

For Brown's opening night set, he begins with "Hope," the first track off of his 2018 studio album How We React and How We Recover (which he revisits many times during the night), an earnest and slightly cheeky little ditty, followed by a rousing "I Love Betsy" from HONEYMOON IN VEGAS.

Next, Brown---ever the workhorse---treats the audience to a pair of songs from two new musicals he's currently working on: "The Shed Shack," a funky acid-Jazz scorcher from his upcoming stage adaptation of MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (which caused me to yelp out a very audible Ooooooh because I love the film), and, afterwards, a song called "Boat" from a yet-to-be-announced stage adaptation of a very well-known best-selling novel he can't reveal just yet (my friend was able to deduce which novel it was just from Brown's description of the plot, but I won't reveal it here in case for fear of spoilers).

After a not-so-humble brag about currently having "a hit show on Broadway right now!," Brown sings a lovely rendition of "This Is Not Over Yet" from PARADE, which he buttons with the first appearance of Kilgore who joins him at the end of the song.

And thus begins the portion of the concert that had me in literal musical theater org*sms for its entirety (sorry, again, to my table-mates). Sometimes dueting with Brown, Kilgore, on his own, is just a stunning vocalist, first tackling a seemingly incidental song featured in THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, "Get Closer," which in his hands becomes a soulfully seductive torch song, followed by a heart-wrenching rendition of "It's Hard to Speak My Heart" from PARADE that had me stunned and going WOW. Kilgore concludes his set with "Too Long" followed by an upbeat "Invisible," which Brown wrote in honor of a young lady named Josie through the Make-A-Wish program (another song featured in How We React and How We Recover).

"I really want to do an all-JRB Revue on Broadway!" yells Kilgore. I couldn't agree more.

But according to Brown, this opening night performance will supposedly be the longest of the three-concert engagement he's having in Costa Mesa.

This bit of good news segues into his beautifully haunting solo in "It All Fades Away," from THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, which he starts in a cappella.

Brown then regales the audience with the story of his daughter wanting to go to the same musical theater camp he also attended as a young theater nerd (he apparently volunteered to be an accompanist a lot to get closer to the pretty girls) which he pays tribute to in the song "Hallowed Ground." He follows it with the longing "Fifty Years Long" which showcases not only Brown's gift for storytelling songs, but also as a wonderfully emotionally-tinged singer as well.

Brown then speaks about being asked to write a finalé song, "Wait 'Til You See What's Next," for famed director Hal Prince's Broadway Revue THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY which ended up getting cut from the show, but, luckily, ended up on his How We React album. The song, much like Brown's prolific career, mirrors Prince's attitude about always working towards launching the next show.

Kilgore returns for one more collab with Brown, singing a rousing duet of "Hear My Song" from SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, which he jokes he decided to sing as a message of hope that things can get better, particularly with the news of the recent high-profile ouster of a certain Fox News host. While many around me---including myself---chuckled at the joke, apparently someone in the back took offense (this is the OC after all) and yelled out "this is MAGA country!" Ugh. Thankfully, that stupid heckle was too muffled to be heard by either Brown or Kilgore.

Brown finishes the show with a spirited "Melinda," and as a final encore, Brown treats us with some caressing lyrics and vocals in a somber but hopeful "All Things In Time."

A fitting capper to Segerstrom Center's 2022-2023 Cabaret Season, Jason Robert Brown and Mykal Kilgore gave audiences one incredible night of songs and stories. I can't wait to see (and hear) what these two come up with next!

** Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ **

Photo courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.


Tickets to Segerstrom Center for the Arts' 2023-2024 Cabaret Series can be purchased online at, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am) located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit


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