London Palladium – 11 April 2018
This week the London Palladium played host to one of the most brilliant concerts I have ever witnessed. American composer, pianist and conductor Jason Robert Brown debuted some of his new songs as well as hits from his various musicals and orchestral works.
He was joined by the BBC Concert Orchestra (plus his own rhythm section), conductor Larry Blank, Capital Voices and musical theatre superstars Rachel Tucker, Betsy Wolfe and Norm Lewis in this one night only musical spectacular. Concerts of this calibre are so often confined to the New York scene so to get something like this live in London was truly magical and is not a night I’ll forget in a hurry.
Jason opened the show with an emotive song about finding hope in a hopeless situation which he revealed was written the day after the last presidential election. He followed this with a song from a musical he has yet to complete, which tells the story of a teen in New York who dreams of having a career as a musician. The upbeat, rhythmical song, Melinda had the audience tapping their feet and ready for the concert ahead of them. This song with various musical dance genres entwined in it was the perfect song to show off Jason’s musicianship and vocals as well as the clear dexterity of the BBC Concert Orchestra players. The two songs in succession set the tone for what was set to be a joyous as well as moving night.
The entire concert was of an immense standard and it would be unfair to pick a particular stand out but over the course of just over two and a half hours, we were treated to some of the gems of Jason Robert Brown’s career, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come with his new album, How We React and How We Recover. Similarly to last year’s Kristin Chenoweth concert, this performance made the vast space of the London Palladium feel intimate and warm and proved that whilst donning various hats as singer, conductor and pianist, at the heart of it all Jason is a storyteller. In my recent interview with him, Jason told me that he loves when you can “go on an adventure with a piece of music” which truly sums up what this night was about.
Rachel Tucker who Jason called “the real thing” gave a glorious rendition of Stars and the Moon from Songs For a New World, which Jason described as “a medley of my greatest… hit!” Her rendition of the anthem, Invisible, written by Jason for a young wheelchair bound girl in collaboration with the Ronald McDonald House and Broadway Inspirational Voices was especially moving and energetic. Rachel also brought the house to their feet with her final performance of Flying Home, which although usually sung by a male voice, sounded as though it was written for Ms Tucker.
Norm Lewis performed gorgeous, mellow renditions of It All Fades Away and All Things in Time as well as joining Betsy Wolfe for a beautiful duet of Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles which proved that the West End needs a production of The Bridges of Madison County, pronto! I know I said I didn’t want to name stand-outs but Betsy’s act 2 performance of I Can Do Better Than That from The Last Five Years was truly marvellous and proved why she’s as adored as she is.
In addition to these songs we also got to experience a whole selection of songs from Honeymoon in Vegas which I saw in it’s concert form at the Palladium last year, as well as some beautiful excerpts from Jason’s symphony, The Trumpet of the Swan. Not only did this instrumental moment show of the virtuosic playing of the orchestra but showed just how emotive music is. Before beginning, Jason briefly explained the plot of the symphony which is based on a children’s book, so we knew what was coming. What I found incredible was how everyone laughed and gasped at the same times despite there being no lyrics to describe the drama. This just proved how powerful music is as an art form and was an especially magical moment for me.
I have to briefly mention the lighting for this concert which was outstanding. For a one night only event which is going out to radio, not television, I was blown away by how much thought and time had clearly gone into every lighting cue. This really added to the warm feeling of the entire night.
At the risk of babbling on for an obscene amount of time, I’m going to wrap up my review here. I’m sorry to say that if you weren’t there you missed out of a truly fantastic night but don’t worry because you can hear the whole things on this week’s Friday Night is Music Night and experience the joy of Jason Robert Brown’s music for yourself. I was enchanted, surprised and blown away by every moment of this gem of a concert.
photo credit: Danny Kaan