• Amy Toledano

Sunday Encounters: An Evening With Jason Robert Brown and Special Guests

Image courtesy of Danny Kaan

For those of us who are fans of the contemporary musical theatre scene, composer Jason Robert Brown is one of the greats. His eccentric pop/jazz sounds are so well known amongst the young MT crowd, that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn't at least know his name.

The theatre is abuzz with excited fans as I enter the space for this wonderful night of music. This is a special occasion for his British fanbase, and as the lights fade the entire room holds its breath with anticipation.

Jason Robert Brown knows what he is good at- and that thing is making music. He enters the space with an air of confidence and does not address the audience but instead immediately launches into the first track on his most recent album How We React and How We Recover, "Hope". Brown's ability to hold a room is immediately evident as the crowd are spell bound by his beautiful, gentle opener.

No stranger to big applause, Brown launches straight into a track from his Broadway musical The Bridges of Madison County, cutting off the audiences' cheers with a gut-punching acapella opening. When Brown does finally address the audience, it is to explain that he wrote the song "Hope" on the morning the last U.S. presidential elections, and after a chuckle from the crowd goes on to say "But I guess you have your own problems."

His connection to the UK is evident, with his charming and somewhat neurotic nature always nodding to iconic British slang, cleverly sneaking it into his patter. As he moves through his set list of both stand alone songs and those made famous from the musicals he has written, his energy is palpable. From the sweating, pulsing Spanish/Latin infused track "Melinda", to the incredibly well known and totally adorable "I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You", Brown is present as ever.

Joining him onstage this evening, along with his cracking band, are musical theatre stars Rachel Tucker, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Tyrone Huntley. Brown is incredibly generous and clearly thrilled to share the stage with such talented performers.

Tyrone Huntley begins the guest line up with an obvious fanbase cheering him on. His voice is soulful and incredibly gentle and he moves from gentle ballad to huge power in his rendition of "King of the World". Huntley's voice soars as Brown moves and flicks his hands up and down the piano for this intricate piece.

Following Huntley is current star of West End hit Come From Away, Rachel Tucker. Tucker is an absolute master at connection. Every lyric and every moment is captured by her, and as her vocals float and dance with Brown's score of The Bridges of Maddison County and Parade, Tucker holds the room as she belts out the incredible "You Don't Know This Man".

To round off the night is soon to be Les Miserables performer Carrie Hope Fletcher who performs some of Brown's most popular pieces from 13 and the cult classic The Last Five Years. Fletcher has a voice that can travel dimensions, and this evening is no exception to this. She also has the pleasure of performing a brand new piece from a show Brown is currently working on called The Connecter. The song is a response from a young journalist to a colleague who thinks it is appropriate to give her "tips" on her current work. The story is one many women deal with regularly, and the energy and guts Fletcher brings is mature and truthful.

As Brown takes the helm again, he reminds us of his incredible ability of encapsulating the human spirit, and putting it on display. He holds a mirror up to the audience, so you feel as if he is speaking to you, about you and only you, which is a real gift. We all already know that Brown is a brilliant pianist, but it really needs to be said over and over again. Never apologising, Brown knows exactly what kind of performer he is, with such charisma in his sweet and talkative demeanour.

One of the most special things about Brown is his ability to make every song a new discovery. Whether he has been performing songs for ten years or two weeks, Brown is a master at making you believe he is singing a song for the first time ever. Every lyric is conversational and off the cuff and is constantly present.

His piano is almost like an echo, highlighting clever lyrics, motifs and jokes that add so much more to what isn't being openly said.

The show whizzed by and closing the show with "Wait 'Til You See What's Next"he left the room buzzing and ecstatic, and had the audience on their feet with a standing ovation that Brown surely must be accustomed to.

His impact on the musical theatre scene is incredibly apparent in the way he is received by his community, and his honesty allows his fans to feel that much closer to him and the magic he and his piano create.

Amy x

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