BWW Interview: Jason Robert Brown Reflects on His Music, Working with Lauren Kennedy, and More in Advance of Theatre Raleigh's Upcoming Concert
Jason Robert Brown has been hailed as one of Broadway's smartest and most sophisticated songwriters. In fact, The Chicago Tribune referred to his work as "extraordinary, jubilant theater music."
But Brown, who wrote the book and score for THE LAST FIVE YEARS and the music and lyrics for the stage adaptation of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, as well as the music and lyrics for PARADE for which he won the 1999 Tony Award, isn't one to pontificate. In fact, he says, it's all about looking ahead.
"I think I'm just running forward," he says. "There's more work to do."
And that new work includes a stage adaptation of MR. SATURDAY NIGHT with Billy Crystal, a stage adaptation of the foreign language film FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, and THE CONNECTOR with director Daisy Prince and book writer Jonathan Marc Sherman.
Brown was about eight-years-old when he first told his parents he had a desire to make music. So, his parents pulled his grandfather's piano out of the basement and gave Brown lessons.
"I led with my ears and I still lead with my ears," he says. "I mean I read very well, but when I play and especially when I write, I'm coming from what's going in my ears, not so much what is happening with my eyes."
Brown calls his musical style a mixed bag of folk, country, gospel, rock-and-roll and "whatever musical theater is."
"I think I'm sort of open to all kinds of noises," he says. "What is most important to me as a musician is the feeling of everyone creating music at the same time together, that thing where I'm playing something and you respond in a certain way and that makes the music come alive.
"That interaction between the musicians is really part of my favorite part of the whole thing, and I think it's a big part of my aesthetic."
The idea of creating new music as a singer-songwriter and collaborating with other musicians is just part of the reason Brown is continuing his residency at Subculture, a "wonderful venue for music" in New York City, for a fifth year.
"I felt like there were just all these other parts of me that I wasn't getting to manifest when I was writing musicals," he says. "I had always intended that I was going to be a performer and that I was going be a singer-songwriter and it sort of got subdued by this musical theater thing."
"I didn't know that that was how I wanted to let it run indefinitely."
So, Jason began recording his own music. His most recent album, How We React and How We Recover, was released last summer.
And it's that eclectic mix of music from his albums to his acclaimed Broadway scores that audiences can expect to hear when Brown comes to Raleigh this weekend to perform a benefit concert for Theatre Raleigh at The Contemporary Art Museum. For this show, Brown says he's most looking forward to reuniting onstage stage with Lauren Kennedy, the producing artistic director of Theatre Raleigh.
Brown first met Kennedy in 2001 when she auditioned for the Chicago premiere of THE LAST FIVE YEARS. Kennedy originated the role of Cathy but was unable to reprise the role when the show opened off-Broadway due to scheduling conflicts.
"That was her part," Brown says. "In my mind, she's always been the embodiment of what that character was."
A year later Kennedy reached out to Brown to record an album of his songs (Songs of Jason Robert Brown). That collaboration and partnership resulted in the pair performing over 50 concerts together. Ultimately, however, Kennedy would return to North Carolina, a move which Brown says is his loss but Raleigh's gain.
"I'm immensely proud of her," he says. "I think it's where she belongs and what she should be doing."
"You know, I lost a singing partner but instead Raleigh got an incredible theater maker, and I think that's a tradeoff I'll have to live with."
AN EVENING WITH Jason Robert Brown in concert to benefit Theatre Raleigh will be April 27th at The Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh. For more information visit: https://theatreraleigh.com/special-events/.