BWW Review Exclusive: Jason Robert Brown and Kelli O'Hara Doubly Delightful in BYU Bravo! Concert
Undoubtedly a first in Utah: two Tony winners performing together in concert.
Definitely: a Tony-deserving concert.
In a major coup, the BYU Bravo! performing arts series assembled the vanguard composer and the luminous muse for his last Broadway musical -- for what appears to have been their first performance together in concert. And they decisively demonstrated how divinely delightful a concert can be.
As JRB fans will point out, "The Bridges of Madison County," which earned the composer two Tonys, was written specifically for O'Hara. (Although nominated for her performance in "Bridges," O'Hara would be Tony-awarded for her following Broadway role, in "The King and I" revival.)
Showing his tremendous piano keyboard mastery, Brown accompanied O'Hara and himself for his compositions, along with two selections made by O'Hara, "Make Someone Happy" (which she did) and the comical "They Don't Let You in the Opera (If You're a Country Star)," both included on her "Always" solo CD and her concert signature pieces. O'Hara's magnificent crystal-clear soprano was showcased, and the emotional intent of the musical conversations were strongly evident.
Brown was introspective, funny and endearing during his between-songs patter. He acknowledged he wrote "perhaps the most heartbreaking songs," with "Bridges" and "The Last Five Years" about romances audiences know from the start are doomed. His third popular show, "Parade," is about Leo Frank's rape and murder court trial. That Tony-winning show opened in December 1998, "the perfect time of year to open a musical about a lynching."
"My life is ruled by anxiety," he said, explaining that writing music "heals something inside me like nothing else can."
To keep the mood of the evening light, Brown opened with the joyous "I Love Betsy" from "Honeymoon in Vegas," along with uplifting songs he wrote for Broadway Inspirational Voices and for a raffle-winning couple to celebrate 50 years of marriage. These two unrecorded compositions may be included in his next solo CD, "to be released within in the next 11 years, or hopefully in the spring."
Introducing her performance of "I'm Still Hurting," Brown explained he met O'Hara in 2001 during the early days of her New York City career. She auditioned for the breakout Off-Broadway "The Last Five Years," and Brown offered her the role of Cathy's understudy, which she turned down (and left her available to play a head-turning role in that year's "Follies" revival).
This season's performance series, which had been singlehandedly produced by Jeff Martin, also includes Alan Menken, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Chick Corea and Joshua Bell. Now the director of the University of Georgia Performing Arts Center, Martin has surpringly been able to introduce to Utah audiences many celebrated stars, including Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Kristin Chenoweth, Nathan Gunn, Renee Fleming, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sutton Foster, Leslie Odom Jr., Lea Salonga, Robert Fairchild, Dawn Upshaw and Savion Glover Did I miss a major name, Jeff? Oh, thanks. I missed Norm Lewis, Adrienne Warren, Leslie Odom Jr, Renee Elise Goldsberry and John Lithgow. He also produced the U.S. premiere of Frank Wildhorn's "The Count of Monte Cristo," an offer the composer made following a "Frank & Friends" concert at BYU.