- CHARITY BENEFIT
Reviewed By Joel Benjamin
Jason Robert Brown is a musical theater composer with a number of great shows under his belt, including The Last Five Years, Parade and Songs for a New World. His show at 54 Below was a tour through these and other shows. This was both a plus and a minus.
His overly generous program opened with Brown singing “It All Fades Away” in his attractive, rich baritone, a song dealing with the impermanence of everything but love, a major theme in his songs. Guest vocalist Shoshana Bean introduced this crowd to her rich, rip-roaring voice ironically in a quiet ballad, “And I Will Follow,” about a woman keeping her vow, followed, in a completely different, darker mood, with “Still Hurting” one of several songs from The Last Five Years, a tense number about a woman avoiding her feelings of loss while doing ordinary chores.
Also featured were songs from his two upcoming shows, The Bridges of Madison County and Honeymoon in Vegas, both based on films (and a novel in the case of the former). From Bridges Ms. Bean sang a gently bouncing number, “Another Life,” in which the former wife of the lead male character consoles herself with her ordinary life and Brown sang “Wondering” about a man letting his senses guide his memories of his former love.
One break in the mood of self-contemplation was the hilarious “Shiksa Goddess,” one of the few stand-alone songs. Brown gave an ecstatic interpretation of a middle class Jewish guy who is love with the absolutely worst kind of girl, a gentile, a shiksa in Yiddish. His family definitely objects. This is a running theme in almost all modern Jewish literature and Brown managed to get all the fear and longing into a brilliantly witty ditty.
Giving the evening another jolt of energy was the appearance of Tony Danza who will be one of the leads in Honeymoon. Danza was absolutely delightful. His character in this show is the older dude who just lost his wife. His song, “Out of the Sun,” was remarkable in how it was both funny and moving as he sang of losing his wife to the lethal rays of the sun when he probably could have saved her had he not indulged his beloved’s every whim. The language was streetwise and sad, yet Danza who has settled into a late Sinatra croon will be the actor to watch in this show.
The performers were all extraordinary. Acoustic & electric guitars were sparklingly played by Gary Sieger. Matt Hinkley also played acoustic guitar while adding a little bright delicacy with his mandolin. On bass was Randy Landau who provided all sorts of wonderful timbres. Jason Robert Brown’s pianistic talents are prodigious. He almost didn’t need any other accompaniment for his songs.
Shoshana Bean is the kind of singer any composer would want interpreting his songs. She not only has a big voice, but lets the songs occupy her body and being.
The only problem with Mr. Brown’s show is that very few of the songs could be performed without long explanations. His songs are terrific in context, but are so specifically character and plot driven that they don’t exist as entertaining entities on their own, as brilliant as they are. Cabaret is a different art form. The songs chosen need to say as much about the performer(s)’ style, experience as where they come from. This show was simply too full of very specifically crafted songwriting that even an “eleventh hour,” half-hearted effort at a sing-a-long couldn’t make the show work. Perhaps editing the songs specifically for concert performance would help, if Mr. Brown wanted to try this out.
Meanwhile the show did whet my appetite to review the recording of The Last 5 Years and line up for tickets for his two upcoming shows. He’s simply too great a songwriter and theater artist.
September 10th-15th at 8:30 pm & September 14th-15th at 11 pm
254 West 54th St. (bet. B’way & 8th Ave.)
Tickets: 866-468-7619 or www.54Below.com
More Information: www.jasonrobertbrown.com