Guest reviewer: Susannah Martin
Songs for a New World, Parade, The Bridges of Madison County and The Last 5 Years – these are a just a handful of the musicals penned by composer Jason Robert Brown, and just few of the treats that were peppered amongst his packed-out, one-off concert at the London Palladium. A pre-recorded concert for BBC Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night Is Music Night, Brown’s layered evening catered to theatre fans and music lovers alike.
Hosted by Brown, the night saw him deliver songs from his repertoire both old and new, accompanied by the magnificent BBC Concert Orchestra, his own rhythm section, and assisted by Capital Voices. West End and Broadway stars Betsy Wolfe, Norm Lewis and Rachel Tucker also graced the stage to sing a variety of numbers, but the best and most impressionable were delivered by Brown himself.
Kicking off proceedings was the overture from his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, which initially flopped on Broadway. The rest of the evening consisted of musical theatre songs interspersed with tracks from his upcoming album, as well as rare treats including ‘Invisible’, his commission from Broadway Inspirational Voices (a touching tribute to a young girl with cancer named Josie) and a soaring rendition of the amusing and bewitching ‘The Trumpet of the Swan’.
Highlights of the evening also included a sweet rendition of ‘Stars and the Moon’ sung by Tucker from Songs for a New World, as well as ‘Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles’ from The Bridges of Madison County, sung by Wolfe and Lewis. Brown recounted several anecdotes throughout the production, including first meeting Tucker and realising she’s the ‘real deal’, as well as instantly casting Wolfe as Cathy in the latest The Last 5 Years revival in New York.
It’s insightful to hear a composer talk so frankly about working in the industry, and an exciting part of the evening was a definite hint that Honeymoon in Vegas could be coming to London following last year’s one-off concert starring Samantha Barks and Arthur Darvill. It’s a wonder that Brown’s musicals are so little-produced in the UK, when his dynamic and unconventional style rivals that of some of the greater British composers.
A thrilling and joyful event, Brown’s intelligent music was aided by the swell of the live orchestra, which showcases just why he has earned his rights as one of the greatest living composers of musical theatre. With the promise of future musical theatre composers taking to the stage for the Radio 2 event, the night offered a rare insight into the workings of a genre that is rapidly, and quite rightly, growing in popularity.