Jason Robert Brown
|Jason Robert Brown|
Brown in 2013
June 20, 1970 |
Ossining, New York, United States
|Occupation(s)||Composer, lyricist, playwright|
Jason Robert Brown (born June 20, 1970) is an American musical theatre composer, lyricist, and playwright. Brown's music sensibility fuses pop-rock stylings with theatrical lyrics. An accomplished pianist, Brown has often served as music director, conductor, orchestrator, and pianist for his own productions. He has won Tony Awards for his work on Parade and The Bridges of Madison County.
Brown grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York for 2 years. During summer, he attended French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in Hancock, New York. He said Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Sunday in the Park with George were two of his biggest influences, and had it not been for them, he would have joined a rock band and tried to be Billy Joel.
When Brown was 23, he and a friend were invited to see a musical by Stephen Sondheim himself. At the show, they sat in front of The New York Times' Frank Rich. They went to dinner, and after twenty minutes, Sondheim asked them what they thought of the show: they both were silent. Brown described the dinner after that moment as "many extremely awkward silences punctuated by bursts of frantic, desperate conversation about anything other than the slaughtered elephant in the room." Brown called mutual friend Daisy Prince the next day, asking if there might be any way to repair the damage after the dinner. She and her family decided that Brown should call Sondheim. Brown paraphrased what Sondheim said:
Nobody cares what you think. Once a creation has been put into the world, you have only one responsibility to its creator: Be supportive. Support is not about showing how clever you are, how observant of some flaw, how incisive in your criticism. There are other people whose job it is to guide the creation, to make it work, to make it live; either they did their job or they didn't. But that is not your problem.
If you come to my show and you see me afterward, say only this: "I loved it". It doesn't matter if that's what you really felt. What I need at that moment is to know that you care enough about me and the work I do to tell me that you loved it, not "in spite of its flaws", not "even though everyone else seems to have a problem with it", but simply, plainly, "I loved it." If you can't say that, don't come backstage, don't find me in the lobby, don't lean over the pit to see me. Just go home, and either write me a nice email or don't. Say all the catty, bitchy things you want to your friend, your neighbor, the Internet.
Maybe next week, maybe next year, maybe someday down the line, I'll be ready to hear what you have to say, but at that moment, that face-to-face moment after I have unveiled some part of my soul, however small, to you: that is the most vulnerable moment in any artist's life. If I beg you, plead with you to tell me what you really thought, what you actually, honestly, totally believed, then you must tell me "I loved it." That moment must be respected."
He began his career in New York City as an arranger, conductor, and pianist, working on shows such as William Finn's A New Brain, and playing at several nightclubs and piano bars in the city. Songs for a New World marked the first major New York production of Brown's songs. An off-Broadway revue with a limited run, the show was directed by Daisy Prince, daughter of director/producer Hal Prince, and featured the 25-year-old Brown's pop-rock-influenced music. The song "Stars and the Moon" has since become a cabaret standard, and is probably Brown's best-known composition to date.
Brown was introduced to Harold Prince through his association with Daisy Prince, and was hired to write songs for the Broadway musical Parade, based on the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. Parade, directed by Hal Prince, and with a book by Alfred Uhry, won Brown the 1999 Tony Award for Best Original Musical Score. During this production, Livent, one of the producers of Parade, pulled out after reviews were not as positive as they'd hoped. RCA Victor, the other major producer, decided it would pull out as well. Brown said of the event in 1999, "Livent dropped out shortly after the reviews came out. They announced they would not spend another dime on the show. RCA had an agreement to record all of Livent's shows. But when Livent pulled out of 'Parade,' the RCA higher-ups said they were pulling out, too. I had to go to Billy Rosenfield and ask him: 'What if we pay for this record and you just distribute it?' Billy said, 'Sure.'" Brown had to try to scrounge money from every corner, "In the end, RCA put in $25,000, Lincoln Center put in a big chunk, around $200,000, including the producer Scott Rudin's $25,000, and there was a contribution from the Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla foundation, which has helped support a lot of musical theatre composers over the years, of $40,000. Even Roy Furman, the new guy at Livent, gave us a little money. Somehow, we pulled it together." Livent also was struggling at the time because the company had mishandled funds while allying for bankruptcy protection.
Brown went back to working with Daisy Prince for his third major show The Last Five Years, for which he wrote the book as well as songs. Inspired by his own failed first marriage, the show is a two-person musical which tells the history of a relationship from two different perspectives. The male's narrative begins at the beginning of the story and progresses through marriage, infidelity, and divorce, while the female narrative begins at the end of the relationship and ends with the couple's first date; the two actors' only direct interaction takes place midpoint, during the wedding sequence. The original Chicago cast consisted of Norbert Leo Butz and Lauren Kennedy, with Sherie Rene Scott over the New York run. The Last Five Years received mixed critical reviews and was not a commercial success, lasting only two months off-Broadway, although Brown garnered 2 Drama Desk Awards for music and lyrics. Additionally, due to the cast recording featuring Scott and Butz, the show has gained popularity among contemporary musical theatre aficionados and is an oft-performed piece in regional and community theatres.
Brown contributed several songs to the Broadway flop Urban Cowboy. He had worked as an orchestrator with director Phillip Oesterman on the Off-Broadway musical New York Rock, and Oesterman called on him to help him out with Urban Cowboy. Urban Cowboy had been denied the use of the Clint Black catalog, and Brown came in and wrote a few songs (with help from director Lonnie Price, who replaced Oesterman after he died). The show was nominated, with 30 other composers, for the 2003 Tony Award for best Musical Score, losing out to Hairspray.
He also teaches courses in musical theatre performance and composition at the University of Southern California. Brown is an active performer of his own work, singing and playing the piano with or without his band, the Caucasian Rhythm Kings (Gary Sieger, guitar, and Randy Landau, bass).
Brown's tween-oriented musical 13 premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, CA on January 7, 2007. It opened on Broadway October 5, 2008 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, and closed on January 4, 2009.
His Bridges of Madison County, a musical adaption of the film with Marsha Norman premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on August 1, 2013. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the cast featured Elena Shaddow as Francesca and Steven Pasquale. The musical opened on Broadway on February 27, 2014, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, starring Kelli O'Hara as Francesca.
According to Brown, Brian Lowdermilk used to be an assistant to him. Brown has recently publicized his personal efforts to discourage the unauthorized online sharing of his copyrighted sheet music via an e-mail conversation with a teenager named Eleanor.
Current projects include adapting a French musical with Alfred Uhry for Kathleen Marshall, a screenplay for a film version of 13, and releasing a solo album in the summer of 2011. One of his songs, entitled "Another Life", is featured on Kelli O'Hara's 2011 album Always. A film adaptation of his popular musical The Last Five Years starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan was completed in July 2013, first shown at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014, and was released on Valentine's Day, 2015; the movie soundtrack on Sh-K-Boom Records was released February 10, 2015. The film was directed by PS, I Love You director, Richard LaGravenese.
Brown has many trademarks in his composing style. His piano music is often extremely rhythmically challenging; his sheet music is released in a mostly unmodified format, posing many challenges to anyone who tries to play it. His songs are by no means easy to sing, either, with his choral music including many complex and unconventional harmonies and his songs (for men, in particular) covering a very wide vocal range. Most of his songs are written in AABA' form, the exceptions coming mostly in his show Parade. Perhaps most characteristic are his love duets; all five (I'd Give it All for You from Songs for a New World, All the Wasted Time from Parade, The Next 10 Minutes from The Last Five Years, Tell Her from 13, and One Second And A Million Miles from The Bridges of Madison County) are written in a very distinct format: male-female-both, compound time in the duet section (two using hemiola), and four of the five end with the couple singing the same pitch.
- Songs For a New World - Ran Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre, October 11 - November 5, 1995. Also conducted, played piano, and sang one line in the last song.
- Parade - Ran on Broadway from December 17, 1998 to February 28, 1999. Won the Tony Award for Best Score, and a Drama Desk Award for Best Music. Also plays piano on the cast recording.
- The Last Five Years - Ran Off-Broadway from March 3, 2002 to May 5, 2002. Won Drama Desk Awards for Best Music and Best Lyrics, and nominated for Outstanding Orchestrations. Also wrote the book, conducted, and played piano. In 2014, a movie was made starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
- Urban Cowboy - Ran on Broadway from March 27, 2003 to May 18, 2003. Tony-Nominated for Best Original Score. Brown contributed five songs to the score of the musical. Also orchestrated, arranged, music directed, conducted, played keyboards, and sang.
- Wearing Someone Else's Clothes - 2005 - Brown's solo debut album, composed entirely of tracks which were previously unreleased, some of which were cut songs from shows or written for shows which were never finished, and some of which were written as stand-alone songs for the album. The album features his vocals and compositions on every song, and his arrangements and musicianship on almost every track.
- Chanukah Suite - 2005 - an 8-minute chorale fanfare in three parts, featuring traditional Hebrew songs infused with up-tempo rock and roll rhythms and Leonard Bernstein inspired chordal flavors.
- 13, Composer. Premiered January 7, 2007, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, California and subsequently opened on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, running from October 5, 2008 to January 4, 2009 after 22 previews and 105 regular performances.
- The Bridges of Madison County - Stage adaptation of the novel. Jason Robert Brown has written the music and lyrics with a book by Marsha Norman. The musical played an out-of-town tryout at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in August 2013. It opened on Broadway at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on January 17, 2014 (in previews) and officially on February 20, 2014. The production closed on May 18, 2014 after 137 performances due to low ticket sales. He won two 2014 Tony Awards, one for Best Original Score and one for Best Orchestrations.
- Honeymoon in Vegas - Brown has written a stage adaption of the motion picture of the same name, with the book written by Andrew Bergman. The Broadway production was originally scheduled to debut in Toronto in November 2012, but was canceled. Performances began on September 26, 2013, for the out-of-town tryout at the Paper Mill Playhouse starring Tony Danza and Rob McClure. The Broadway production starring Danza and McClure opened at the Nederlander Theatre on January 15, 2015, before closing on April 5, 2015, due to insufficient ticket sales.
- The Waverly Gallery - Off-Broadway run from March 22, 2000 to May 21, 2000 at the Promenade Theatre. Play by The Waverley Gallery, with music by Brown.
- John and Jen - Orchestrations
- A New Brain - Vocal arrangements/additional musician
- New York Rock - Orchestrations
- The Trumpet of the Swan, 2011 - Composer and conductor for stage adaptation by Marsha Norman
Original cast recordings were made for Songs for a New World, Parade, The Last Five Years, 13, The Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas. "Stars and the Moon" has been recorded many times, including on Audra McDonald's Way Back to Paradise and Betty Buckley's Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar.
Actress Lauren Kennedy, who originated the role of Cathy in the Chicago production of The Last Five Years, released Songs of Jason Robert Brown, featuring Brown's compositions from his previous shows, as well as several previously unreleased songs.
- Holden, Stephen."Drive and Insecurity Meet, Creating Sparks at the Piano"The New York Times, June 29, 2005
- Weber, Bruce."If Only the Cool Kids Could See Him Now (at Least Hear His Songs)"The New York Times, October 1, 2008
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- 'The Last Five Years' listing lortel.org, accessed February 1, 2010
- Holden, Stephen."A Composer Sells His Songs and Himself"The New York Times, February 12, 2007
- "ATW's Working in the Theatre #311 Production: "Urban Cowboy" (Spring 2003) Extended". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-07-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- "Wearing Someone Else's Clothes" listing amazon.com, accessed February 1, 2010
- Notes for Chanukah Suite seattlechoralcompany.org, ca 2009, accessed February 1, 2010
- "Jason Robert Brown to Bring '13' 'The Last Five Years' to Screen More" broadwayworld.com, December 27, 2010
- Hetrick, Adam. " 'The Bridges of Madison County', Starring Steven Pasquale and Elena Shaddow, Premieres at Williamstown" playbill.com, August 1, 2013
- Hetrick, Adam. " 'The Bridges of Madison County', Starring Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale, Sets Broadway Opening Night" Playbill, August 20, 2013
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- "Kelli OHara" broadwayworld.com, April 29, 2010
- Gioia, Michael. "Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick Will Explore The Last Five Years On Screen in Richard LaGravenese Adaptation". Retrieved 2013-03-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Shenton, Mark."Broadways Young(er) Composers"The Stage, December 7, 2005
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- "Weddings/Celebrations; Georgia Stitt, Jason Robert Brown" The New York Times, October 19, 2003
- BWW News Desk."Jason Robert Brown and Georgia Stitt Welcome A Baby Girl!" broadwayworld.com, October 21, 2009
- "'Songs for a New World' Listing" Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed September 30, 2015
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- "The Tony Award Nominees - Shows - TonyAwards.com - The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards® - Official Website by IBM". TonyAwards.com. 2014-02-18. Retrieved 2014-07-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- Jason Robert Brown's Official Website
- Jason Robert Brown at the Internet Broadway Database
- Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Production: Urban Cowboy - Working in the Theatre Seminar video at American Theatre Wing.org, April 2003
- Parade to Make West End Premiere in 2007
- BroadwayWorld.com interview with Jason Robert Brown, August 16, 2007