Jason Robert Brown

“If I didn’t believe in you…”

After my recent move across the country from Berlin to Wiesbaden I was kind of a musical-orphan.

Not that Berlin is an El Dorado for musical folks. But….well….Wiesbaden. 😉

Anyway when my long time internet friend Niklas from Theaterdistrikt texted me about 2 weeks ago if I wanted to try and get a ticket for the opening of “The Last 5 Years” produced by The Musical Season I was all like: “Hell yeah!”

Not only was I really in the mood for meeting new people (Niklas! Hey!) in real life, but in case you haven’t noticed: I’m a really big fan of anything Jason Robert Brown. From Parade to Bridges including The Trumpet of the Swan, you name it, I love it. Especially The Last 5 Years is one of my all time favourites. This show has been in my life for more than 8 years now and I habe always loved it. Mostly for the concept, but also for the lyrics, for the way the lyrics and the music play with each other and for the way Cathy has the hard job of being not too whine-y in the beginning or the whole evening will be a desaster. I own 4 different recordings of this show (original off-broadway, German, revival off-broadway, movie) and I’ve seen the movie a couple of times (THE SCHMUEL SONG, everybody!).

Almost 5 years ago on this day (Timehop just reminded me of that) I saw a production of it in Chemnitz and now Frankfurt was my second live experience. And while this Frankfurt production was not flawless in every department I loved every second of it. And here’s why:

  1. the stage:  black box, two benches. The musicians spread out over all three wall of the stage. From the walls and the ceiling hanging all kinds of things that make up our lives, our memories, our relationships. Keeping it simple, keeping in real – and a black box can mean the world.
  2. the staging: again. keepin’ it simple. There were a couple of dance moves (The Next Ten Minutes…mostly because – I believe – dancing is easier to ‘rewind’ for the second half of the song than normal movement), but it was best without. After all The Last 5 Years is about people. And about all of the things that can go wrong between them. Yes, there ARE costum-changes, a lot of them, but in these costumes you can always see the characters growing older or younger.
  3. the actors: while the impression these two leave is influenced by the biggest flaw of the opening night (memorizing the lyrics….), Hannah Grover and Andy Coxon manage to take us along on the journey their characters go on. Being alone on stage predenting to have a partner is one of the harder parts of this show and while you deeply understand both sides of the story. Both manage super well with the music (luckily music and lyrics can be two very different things) and small theatres have this amazing things where you sometimes can feel their singing in addition to just hearing it.
  4. the idea: The Musical Season went out to produce smaller scale shows in their original (English) language, bringing Off-Broadway or the West End equal of that to Frankfurt, staging high quality theatre without the big bucks in mind or in the background. Starting with enthusiasm and love for theatre and in a way…sharing their love with us. While we have a well developed off-Scene for most theatrical genres Musical is missing an off-vibe for the most part. This is why the idea behind The Musical Season is very, very welcome to my theatre-world. 😉

It would be amazing to see which show they (HOPEFULLY) conquer next, I most definitely have suggestions. Plus: Seeing this has fueled my own Musical theatre mojo again. Now I only have to find the time and the brain space to sit down and work on some stuff. (YAY)

To those who are still on the fence about whether they should go or not: I was given a free ticket because I work in theatre business. But I was so moved and amazed by the performance and the initiave I simple HAD to donate the money I would gladly have spent on a Steuerkarte. And this, my friends, is the highest thing you could achieve in my books.

 

Music Monday … To Build A Home

This #MusicMonday was inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda who shared this video on his twitter and brought this back to my mind.

I guess we all know the song, right? It’s from Jason Rorbert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County (that will be done in Germany next season!) – so this week isn’t that much about getting to know a song although it’s gorgeous and everyone should listen to it. All the time.

I wanted to make this week’s #MusicMonday about purity and courage (and maybe even honesty) in performances. Because this, ladies and gentlemen is an AMAZING example.

But sit back and see for yourselves.

And think and enjoy the sun (at least here in Berlin).

 

Music Monday … On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship

Sometimes oldies are goldies.

Yesterday I went to Leipzig to see the last ever class of (contemporary) musical theatre students doing their last performance of Songs for a New World. Ages ago, when I was still in high school, I used to be obessed with it and there are so many memories tied to the score! I haven’t listened to the score in its entiery in a while, though. Of course there are songs like Steam Train and King of the World that are amazing to listen to when riding your bike or doing anything higher energetic…but I also almost forgot about how heartbreaking I’d give it all for you is! (I seem to have a thing for these JRB-love-songs) A song I almost completey forgot about and I’m slightly embarrassed to say so, is On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship! I just remeber how obessed I used to be with this acapella parts, I’d listen to them over and over and over and over again for hours.

So let’s take time this Monday to revisit my teenage obession! If you own the recording, play it, it’s an amazing version on there.If you don’t…

a) buy it! It’s worth it!

b) Spotify sure has it.

c) I found this one and it sounds rather nice.

Is it okay if I touch you? … The Bridges of Madison County

first time I went to see it, I was excited anyways, and then THIS happened!

first time I went to see it, I was excited anyways, and then THIS happened! JRB himself conducting!

 

the Bridges marquee at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

the Bridges marquee at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

Well…writing about The Bridges of Madison County so long after it’s closed and even after Jason Robert Brown winning two of his Tony Awards for it seems so wrong and anachronistic, but sometimes I’m a little slow with things and that’s why I really want to do it (because – as I have expressed multiple times already – I loved this show and I love the score so much!) and now is the time I finally get to it. So: Yeah.

First of all – I’m not the biggest fan of romance and romancy types of stuff. Novels, movies, TV shows – as long as it is pure romance there are only very fews ways to get me interested. And many people would put Bridges in the “pure romance” category – just briefly seen it’s just the story of a man and a woman falling in love and ‘finding the love of their lives’ and then need to ‘break up’ because she is married. And of course, cheating is a very sensitive topic to touch and the married one being the woman is even more complicated because woman (still) are expected to give most of what they have for their husband and kids, to their family. The German theatre performance group She She Pop even created a whole evening of theatrical performance about the sacrifices (their) mothers had to make in order to make their family work. Anyway.

Looking deeper into the show itself I find that there are so many ‘paintings’ layered on top of each other. Not only the music is layered in a way you can listen to it a million times and still finding things you never had heard before – I kid you not, I had a situation where I was listening to it non stop and suddenly was like: “Wait. Did that cello just play this? Had it played it before? No way it has – I would have had heard that earlier!” and then, of course, the cello always had played that way because it’s a recording. On a CD. And they don’t tend to change.

When I remember the two performances I was lucky enough to see on Broadway (and I even was lucky enough to have Jason Robert Brown conduct both of them…) I really like to think about it as a layered painting as well. Not only was the biggest part of the set, the backround, a somewhat old-school-ish painted backround. There was the Iowa-ian sky and fields. On that painting the lights painted emotions and day and night and day again. And eventually Francesca and Robert told their story and while telling it they painted pictures of all the other people: Of her husband Bud and her kids, of Marian, Robert’s former wife, of those who live close by Francesca and of her past in Italy and how she first came to America. Not only the script and the music tells everything through them but Kelli O’Hara (why didn’t she win the Tony?? Why didn’t she win ANY of the awards she was nominated for? WHY?) and Steven Pasquale actually spun this story in between their bodies and voices and their pure performances. Seeing it live on stage actually was like agreeing to it and committing to it in the first moments, following this solo cello along on this journey. This sounds very cheesy, but I swear there are theatre experiences like that, you agree, follow along and there’s no way out for you before the curtain call and for me Bridges definitely was one of those. And whenever they stuck to the story as told through Robert and Francesca it worked best for me. I’m still not very sure about the part the elderly couple next door plays in this story (of course they are more like the Bouffo-couple, the ones mirroring and foreshadowing in Francesca’s Iowian life) – they could work as ‘told’ by Francesca as well, actually, but then they do stuff and help her after she couldn’t bring herself to leave along with Robert.
I remember my family having slight problems with the song “When I’m gone” because somehow, if you don’t listen closely (maybe because of language problems, maybe because you are not fully paying attention…) it’s easy to miss that both of the man – Bud and Charlie die over the years. And I think it also might be because of the sudden change of narrator: Suddenly the husbands are telling the (their) story not – but only for one song, because afterwards: They are dead. And afterwards the old narration is re-established, Franscesca and Robert are kind of finishing their painting of their lives.

When I think about that show as a painting, of imagining things together and putting pieces into their places the directing was just that – it made people put together things on stage, building a home (see what I did here?) and a bigger picture.

I have a really bad feeling raving about the mode Bridges is written in and was shown in, and I definitely see some weak spots in the book like so many others pointed out – but I also have the feeling that so many people hard-core loved the show and so many people just thought it was boring and maybe got offended by the story of a woman cheating on her husband.

In the ‘About me’-section of this blog I quote Jennifer Ashley Tepper from her book “The Untold Stories of Broadway”. In this book she talks about Merrily We Roll Along and how much she loves it and how much she wishes she could have seen the original production (so do I after reading about it!) – and thinking about Bridges I feel it could be my Merrily. Only that I was fortunate enough to have seen it.

The Thing That Changed My Life

A little disclaimer beforehand: This is a personal post. Probably the most personal one I’ve posted yet, but I think it shows my love for theatre in a very raw way and that’s why I have a feeling that it needs to be here. If you think this post is too pathetic or tacky, you are very welcome to do so – because in the end we all feel what we feel. Also, this is not written by a musical theorist. I love music, I can read sheet music and I know basic things about harmonies and I have had quite some practice in listening to music (I actually know what I’m hearing and I am paying attention to what happens harmonies-wise), but after all I am still a theatre scholar writing and talking about music. 

Plus: I know I haven’t written down my thoughts about Bridges yet, I’m saving it for last….

Now that I have spend an unreasonable amount of time with the recording of The Bridges of Madison County, I came to a conclusion that already had dawned on me when I saw that piece back in March/April in New York.

I am in love with this score. – Well, this might not be a HUGE surprise given the fact that I have been a fan of Jason Robert Brown’s work for a number of years now (probably something like eight or nine years) and that loving the score of Bridges is not a very uncommon thing – at least among theatre enthusiasts (expressing themselves on the internet). But I actually remember sitting in this seat at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre and listening to the first notes, this cello playing them. I remember loving it in this very second, because I fell in love again with cellos and it made me instantly feel the vibe of the show. In a way, Bridges is very much like my idea of a cello. And then Francesca sings to us about landing in America – and the music happening around the word ‘America’ makes us feel like Francesca who is missing Italy and then, suddenly the music makes the picture brighter again when she arrives in Iowa. To this point, the music – and the music alone – paints pictures, changing the light and the intensities of colours in a matter of seconds, maybe half a minute.

Actually this colouring and changing of light happens – literally again – when Robert is taking pictures of the bridge and the light shifts and he gets so excited. This is actually another one of my very favourite moments because not only the music draws a picture of what everything looks like, but also the lyrics pay attention and respect to that very moment something happens and you are so over the moon with that. This moment when you are finally able to show something to someone you wanted to show them so badly is a very important thing for me as well – I included a variation of this in my letters of motivation going with the essays I’ve written for college applications earlier this year. This is pretty much the reason why I want to become what I want to become.

Anyway, back to the music. This very moment of shifting light makes me crack up everytime over and over again. And so is It All Fades Away (to which I remember me – again – sitting in my seat in the theatre and sobbing uncontrolably – I couln’t stop and in a way I didn’t even want to). And Love is Always Better. But I guess, in a way, this light-shift in The World Inside a Frame and the re-occuring cello solo ismaking this score so special to me. It cracks me open every single time I listen and it leaves me there, totally exposed to the music.

The thing is, that you keep discovering new things about the music – every time I give it my full attention listening I’m like: Wow – what’s happening with the women in these bars – and Francesca – and – and – and?

Thinking about it I had a very similiar (but not that intense) experience when I saw Hans Neuenfels’ production of Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear from the 1960ies. This music affected me emotionally in a way that swiped me off my feet and all I could do is listen and listen and listen and come and watch the production over and over again. (the last time they brougth it back I missed only one performance, because I knew it would be the last they this production’d be shown and I needed to hear this music with these singers’ voices) I brought a couple of people with me and somehow, sadly none of them was as impressed by it as I was. Just as Bridges, Lear includes themes and musical arrangements and melodies that crack you open in a very non-rational way (while, of course, you can and HAVE to approach both compositions rationally once you want to work with them) and keeps you open once you agreed to come along on the road through the score, once you promised to listen.

Because I loved what I saw (and heard) on stage in New York I read the novel back home – it was one of the fluffiest reading experienced I had probably since I was 15 – and I started to think about the story again and suddenly it hit me: Probably I love music (theatrical music, with narratives, I love narratives – be they vocal or instrumental only) as much as and in a way that Robert loves Francesca and she loves him.

Well, that does sound pathetic and over-dramatic. And yes, it probably is, but at the same time it’s very, very true. In a way the score showed me very clearly that I will never be able to love a person as much as I love my work, theatre, music and story-telling (in every possible way).

This score has changed my life in a way theatre scholars have been wondering about for ages – this change sticks with me long after I have left the theatre and even the city I saw the production in.

Thank you for that, Mr. Brown.

Now that I have this off my chest I feel great, actually. Have you ever witnessed something in a theatre that made you think “I am changing! I am changing in this very moment!”?

I will be happy, if you cared to share! 

Music Monday … It All Fades Away

It All Fades Away

This is a song from Jason Robert Brown’s latest Broadway show and it’s so gorgeous I kind of can’t take it. Really. Steven Pasquale’s voice is unbelievable – especially right in the beginning.

(I’m not in the mood to write much – so, let’s just listen, okay?)

Happy Monday! What are you listening to today?

Music Monday … This Is Not Over Yet

Yes. I’m sorry for all of this Jason Robert Brown craziness on Music Mondays. A little bit.

Because here again we get a great song (actually two…the wonders of Tonys!) with a great performance from Parade, a great piece of musical theatre. (And JRB won a Tony for this score. Being 28 years old. I’m very jealous) And This Is Not Over Yet has just escorted me through a lot of time now and it’s one of my favourite songs from the score.

What do we want more for Music Mondays?
It even has some kind of drive you need to conquer Mondays, right?

What’s your tune of the day?

Music Monday … I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You

Boy, this is a late Music Monday, folks! But I was just so occupied by work and more work and reading and more reading and feeling very grwon up when I brought two blazers to the dry-cleaner (yes, I’m that kind of girl – but now…..MUSIC MONDAY!

I posted that on my facebook page before, but I’m still so much into it that small facebook post is not doing it any justice. (and yes – my fan-girling over Norbert Leo Butz is not funny anymore)
But he’s great, right? He’s so great. This acting? And this crazy laugh in the beginning? Amazing.

And this song…it’s featured on Jason Robert Brown’s own CD (sung by him!) and I got that CD a good 5 years or so ago. It was in Last 5 Years before basically Brown’s ex-wife sued him for writing a thing about their marriage and then he replaced it with Shiksha Goddess. That’s what I understand of that case. But anyways…I always loved that song (along with Nothing in Common it was my favourite song) and then I found out that Butz was singing it on the live-recording of his performance at 54below and I heard him sing….and – good Lord! – I was trapped all over again.

What do you think? What were you listening to today?
What is your favourite Jason Robert Brown tune?
(I can’t stop writing about him. He’s just my absolute favourite composer for modern musical theatre.)

 

Music Monday … Wär die Welt perfekt

This week I share some music with you that most of you will know anyways. It’s not a secret that I love, love, LOVE Jason Robert Brown’s music. I just love his storytelling and the way the songs are theatre – they are just some kind of musical theatre on their own and that’s so great. I recently met Peter Schmid at Bundeswettbewerb Gesang and he and his acting around one of my favourite Brown songs impressed me so much I thought it would be nice to share that with you.

Please listen to this very nice translation, too. And the music. Listen just to what the music tells you and you’ll understand! 😉

What are you listening to today? I’d be glad to hear in the comments or on my facebook-page!