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An Evening With Jason Robert Brown
Wright State University
Review by Scott Cain | Season Schedule

Jason Robert Brown
Photo Courtesy of Wright State University
The theme of the Musical Theatre Initiative at Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio) this year has been Musicals Rock!, so it's fitting that the culminating event of the series was An Evening With Jason Robert Brown. This isn't to say that Jason is just a theater composer in the style of pop/rock (among others), but even more so, that he rocks in his energetic and full throttle performance of his masterful showtunes which have made him one of the best musical theater songwriters of the last two decades.

Brown has a bit of history with Wright State University, as they produced the first collegiate production of his moving musical Parade back in 2001. This concert, which was staged at downtown Dayton's venerable Victoria Theatre with the audience seated onstage surrounding the composer, offered an intimate glimpse at the artist and his songs. The concert included samples from most of his major musicals (only a selection from 13 was missing), as well as a few independent ones.

Jason was fighting a cold and was just a bit raspy in voice but still delivered the songs with his well-known impassioned and soulful vocals. There's something special about hearing a composer of this ability perform and interpret his own material. To say that Brown is a skilled pianist is selling him short, as he attacks the instrument with the vigor and emotion of a true musical genius, and also provides effective changes in dynamics both for the piano and vocally. Brown is also an extremely gifted arranger, with his percussive piano accompaniment providing additional superb musical layering for his already outstanding melodies. His delivery of the tunes was wide and varied in their approach, from tender introspection to comedic hilarity, perfectly matching the likewise diverse songs.

Speaking of the songs, they are brilliant, and demonstrate why Brown has already won two Tony Awards (Parade, The Bridges of Madison County). The evening opened with a stirring rendition of "It All Fades Away" from The Bridges of Madison County, followed by the very funny "I Could Be in Love with Someone Like You," a cut song from The Last Five Years. Other selections from his produced musicals presented during the 85-minute concert were a lyrically funny "I Love Betsy" from Honeymoon in Vegas, a powerhouse performance of the vibrant "Movin' Too Fast (The Last Five Years), the plaintive "Wandering" (The Bridges of Madison County), a rocking and rhythmically pulsating "King of the World" from Songs For A New World, and "The Old Red Hills of Home", the wonderful opening anthem from Parade. Brown writes for characters and story with great skill, and all of these songs showcase why he's one of musical theater's top current artists.

A true treat was hearing the spunky "Nothing's Bigger than Kong", a song from the upcoming musical King Kong, for which Brown has taken over the songwriting duties since its Australian premiere. Two strong numbers from Brown's solo album Wearing Someone Else's Clothes were also presented: "Long, Long Road" and the heartfelt "Someone to Fall Back On". The concert's remaining songs included "All Things In Time," "50 Years," and the devastatingly thought-provoking "Our Arms Are Open," which primarily features the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Brown's visit to Dayton also included a lecture and interview on the campus of Wright State University with students and the public. Those in the area who want to experience more of Jason Robert Brown's songs will soon have their chance when the national tour of The Bridges of Madison County plays at the Schuster Center in Dayton from March 15-20.

An Evening With Jason Robert Brown was performed at the Victoria Theatre on February 25, 2016.

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