by Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
October 14 & 15, 2011
“He’s the Spielberg of musical theater,” said managing and artistic director Shannon Forsell when she introduced composer, lyricist and playwright Jason Robert Brown at Friday’s opening night of a two-day run of The Jason Brown Songbook at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.
Forsell was quoting one of the many young people present who came to see Brown, who also is often compared to the man who inspired him, Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim.
Brown also is a gifted pianist and has served as a conductor, musical director and orchestrator of his own productions. Appearing with him was special guest Shoshana Bean, best known for replacing Idina Menzel in Wicked and performing in Hairspray on Broadway.
Songs for a New World, Parade (which earned him the 1999 Tony Award for best original musical score), The Last Five Years and 13 are some of Brown’s best-known musical-theater works. He also is in a band called Caucasian Rhythm Kings.
Feted for his originality in combining pop-rock flavored music with theatrical lyrics, Brown is currently working on several new projects. They include a musical version of the 1992 comedy film Honeymoon in Vegas and a musical adaptation of the 1995 film The Bridges of Madison County.
Brown’s Cabaret program consisted of songs from his previous works (including his 2005 album – Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes), as well as material from the aforementioned new ones. Often referring to his performance as a “concert,” he projected a forceful intensity, both when he sang and when he played the piano. It was a powerful presence he joked about when he said, “I wonder if it will go with the steak,” a reference to meals eaten by patrons during Cabaret shows in the Columbia Club’s elegant Crystal Terrace Room.
“I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You,” “Long Long Road,” “Being a Geek,” “The Old Red Hills of Home” and “Caravan of Angels” (a moving song about family and friends who love and support him) were just a few of his songs that Brown sang solo.
They reflected his genius at composing music with a contemporary sound and fusing it with lyrics that are striking in their sophisticated originality.
Brown’s banter with the audience was rapidly delivered in an nearly unfiltered stream-of -consciousness manner. It added to the high entertainment value of a stage persona influenced by Brown’s New York roots and Jewish sensibilities. In the end, his self-deprecating humor brought a vitality to a room that often features acts that are perhaps more conventional and far less edgy.
Bean, who has originality stamped all over her as well, demonstrated her distinctive voice, range and idiosyncrasies in her uncommon song styling. Her solos included “All Things in Time,” “Another Life” (from The Bridges of Madison County) and “Anywhere” (from Honeymoon in Vegas). Matching one another in vocal power and strength, Bean and Brown sang a duet of “I’d Give It All for You.”
For tickets and information about the remainder of the Cabaret at the Columbia Club 2011 season, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
Click here to read Tom’s review.
"One of Indianapolis' most fashionable downtown nightspots..."Tom Alvarez, Examiner.com