JBWW Review: AN EVENING WITH JASON ROBERT BROWN, London Palladiumason Robert Brown's concert at the London Palladium was a wonderful mix of familiar and new songs sung by Brown himself, Betsy Wolfe, Norm Lewis, and Rachel Tucker. Brown juggled multiple hats as singer, piano player, and at times conductor, but proved that storytelling is what he truly does best. He managed to create an almost intimate friendly atmosphere as he joked and talked to the crowd.

Brown was accompanied by the supremely talented BBC orchestra, conductor Larry Blank, Capital Voices, and his own rhythm section. The show was being recorded for broadcasting on BBC Radio 2 and at the beginning, he apologized for any bad language that might need to be cut out.

The concert opened with just Brown playing the piano and singing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek song about finding hope in hopeless circumstances. Brown shared he wrote it the day after the last presidential election, which drew appreciative laughs from the audience. He teased that some of the music he was premiering would feature on a new album coming in June.

Rachel Tucker certainly did justice to Songs for a New World classic "Stars and the Moon", or as Jason referred to it, "a medley of my greatest...hit". She brought the house down in the second to last number of the night with a song from the same show, "Flying Home". I was particularly touched by "Invisible", a power anthem sung by Tucker that Brown explained he wrote for a young girl as part of a collaboration between Broadway Inspirational Voices and the Ronald McDonald House.

Norm Lewis performed a soothing "All Things in Time" while Betsy Wolfe truly shined singing "I Can Do Better than That" from The Last Five Years. They shared a beautiful duet from Bridges of Madison County, "Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles" with Lewis also doing a gorgeous rendition of "It All Fades Away but You".

A whole section was dedicated to Honeymoon in Vegas, which had a concert at the London Palladium about a year ago and Brown hinted is soon to make its proper West End debut. Brown himself sang the amusing "I Love Betsy" while Betsy Wolfe (a joke Brown didn't miss out on) sang Betsy's song "Anywhere But Here".

Lewis sang Elvis-impersonator number "Higher Love" and, in one of the funnier moments of the night, stopped the song a few verses in to start over before quipping, "Elvis is old!" In fact, there were several stops and starts during the night as Brown wasn't afraid to start a song over again if he felt he'd messed up. Rather than being annoying, it made the whole concert feel a bit less formal and rather cosy for such a grand venue.

A few false starts aside, all three performers were lovely. Brown's adoration of Tucker is clear and it's hard to argue with as her voice is certainly one of the strongest in the West End. Lewis has an easy suaveness and a gorgeous baritone voice. And Wolfe is practically a real-life Barbie doll complete with wardrobe changes, a bright personality, and a stunning voice to match.

Brown himself is actually rather charming with no pretence at all. At one point, he called up to the tech crew to move a light because it was shining right into the eyes of a woman in the front row. "American does good deed!" he bellowed out after, though admitting it doesn't quite make up for the rest of his country.

Speaking of tech, the design for the concert was wonderful as the lighting added a certain mood to each number. Of course, it goes without saying that the BBC concert orchestra is phenomenal and they blended well with Brown's rhythm section. I particularly loved the old-fashioned drum music on "The Old Red Hills of Home", which Brown sang from Parade.

Brown also conducted two instrumental suites, one from Bridges of Madison County and the other based on the book "Trumpet of the Swan". However, before starting the second, he explained to the audience the story behind the music showing that even his instrumental music is narrative focused.

Brown's song choice was eclectic and perhaps not what one would expect from him: he leaned towards new music and lesser known shows like Bridges and Honeymoon in Vegas rather than standards from The Last Five Years or Parade. But paired with the easy rapport he built with the audience, the fantastic performances from his guest singers, and the sumptuous BBC concert orchestra, it was surely a memorable night for all.

Make sure to check out the interview that I did with Jason Robert Brown about this concert and his past and current work.

An Evening with Jason Robert Brown occurred on 11 April and is part of the BBC's "Friday Night is Music Night" series.

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From This Author Nicole Ackman

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