London Palladium – on 11 April 2018
A packed Palladium saw Jason Robert Brown, supported by the lush BBC Concert Orchestra and the composer’s own rhythm section record a Friday Night Is Music Night show for future broadcast. The music was grand and with the stunning talents of Betsy Wolfe and Norm Lewis also flown in specially from Broadway to join the British Isle’s very own Rachel Tucker, the vocal talent was top-notch too.
The evening was a potpourri drawn from across a range of Brown’s shows – and whilst he may have amassed a couple of Tonys to date, it was with a self-deprecating charm that Brown introduced Tucker’s take on Stars And The Moon from the Songs For A New World song-cycle, as a “medley of my greatest hit”, a wry acknowledgement of the Broadway commercial success that has so far eluded him.
Wolfe and Lewis were the evening’s vocal stars, Lewis wowing the crowd with his Elvis-infused Higher Love (from Honeymoon In Vegas, a show that carries whispers of a possible West End stint) and Wolfe bringing the audience to their feet in rapturous applause with her unsurpassed interpretation of I Can Do Better Than That from The Last Five Years. It remains an interesting comment that both that number and Stars And The Moon, both of which are quite possibly Brown’s most famous songs are singularly about, even if not drawn from the writer’s experience, female aspiration. From this reviewer’s perspective one cannot comment upon the perception of Brown’s writing – other than to mark this tiny trend and the remarkable popularity of both songs.
Brown’s first modestly major Broadway show, Parade, got a look in with the writer himself singing The Old Red Hills Of Home and commenting to the audience how much he relished the opportunity to return to the production’s original lavish, Broadway orchestrations. Having seen numerous Parades, each staged in a modestly-budgeted fringe venue, that score in particular works best when delivered away from the luxury of a fully stringed 60 piece ensemble, the beautiful brutality of Brown’s work remaining best played by a small, tightly structured band, with the striking, punching percussive staccato of the opening drum-beat lending itself to the chilling echoes of the Conferederate marching band it suggests. The Palladium gig may have offered up a useful comparison for sure. But a fully orchestrated Parade? No thanks.
The music was perfect throughout under Larry Blank’s baton. Brown added a suite of suites to the set list for good measure and with Tucker spectacularly flying home to Flying Home at the close, the Radio 2 audience are unlikely to be disappointed.