Collaborating with Willy the Shake

Guest Blogger: Jason Robert Brown, writer of librettos The Last 5 Years and 13, shares an original composition on his blog.

Last night, the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a stupendous soirée featuring an ensemble of seventeen actors and twelve musicians as well as a mighty lineup of guest performers, including Whoopi Goldberg and TR Knight. The director, Peter Flynn (who I’ve known for many years both as a wonderfully gifted theatre artist and as the husband of my beloved Andréa Burns) asked me if I would write something for the gala, preferably something related to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play which has a long and significant history at the Guthrie.

I haven’t previously collaborated much with Willy the Shake (as Joni Mitchell refers to him) because, well, it makes me nervous; every great composer in history has set his words, and what can I possibly have to say that, oh, for example, Benjamin Britten didn’t already say better than I ever could? But in looking over Hamlet’s advice to the players (Act III, Scene II), I couldn’t help nodding in agreement with his four hundred-year-old suggestions, and I was amused and giddy at the prospect that the same advice would apply to any given group of actors even now. And so I decided to give the Bard a contemporary sound, something very “me,” and I knew I’d need a performer who could both act the text and really sing his tail off.

Brian d’Arcy James and I have been working together for a really long time now, and he is to my mind the finest singing actor we have on the Planet Earth at the moment. He also has a little history with my family and Shakespeare, having sung Georgia‘s magnificent setting of Sonnet 29 on her My Lifelong Love CD. So when Peter and I found out that Brian was available, that was a no-brainer. The minute Brian was on board, I started writing.

Apparently the concert last night was a huge success, and hopefully Brian will record this craziness soon, but in the meantime, here’s my demo of what I cheekily call “Advice to the Playaz.”

To listen to the recorded demo of the song, visit Jason’s blog!


One of the most frequently produced new musicals of the last decade, 13 is a rollicking musical comedy featuring a cast exclusively made up of teenagers. Thirteen 13-year-olds, as a matter of fact.

Evan Goldman is two months from turning 13 years old, living happily in New York City, the greatest city on Earth, when his world is blown apart by his parents’ divorce, and he is dragged away from home to live with his mother in a small town in the Midwest. Facing a new life in a new place where the customs and culture are utterly alien to him, and with his bar mitzvah getting closer every day, Evan has to navigate who he wants to be versus who he really is, and see if he can make it through the fall without losing the best friends he’ll ever have.



Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on July 3, 2013, in Theatre and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: