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JRB Plays JRB

Guest Blogger: Jason Robert Brown, composer of The Last Five Years and 13Take a look at his blog!

My editor at Hal Leonard, the estimable Rick Walters, called me in 2010 with the idea that we should do a book-and-CD folio of me playing accompaniments to my own songs, with a male and female edition. I thought it was a fantastic idea, and now it’s finally out in the world!

Here’s the great news: If you’ve already got the sheet music, you can purchase the tracks (individually or collectively) on iTunes. And if you don’t have the sheet music, you can get any individual song on SheetMusicDirect.com, or you can order the book-and-CD package from Amazon or at your local sheet music retailer!

I’ll put links for all the songs at the bottom of this blog, but first, here’s an excerpt from my introduction to the book:

My favorite musical theater composers have all been formidable pianists: Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Cy Coleman. When I was supposed to be learning Bach and Mozart for my piano lessons, I was instead spending countless hours playing through West Side Story and Sunday in the Park with George, relishing the challenge of reproducing the sounds I heard on the original cast albums and movie soundtracks. Meanwhile, I was writing songs inspired by my pop heroes: Billy Joel, Elton John, Carole King, Stevie Wonder – again, a group of pianists of great technical facility and truly individual style.

Over time, I developed a very specific personality of my own as a pianist, something that doesn’t sound quite like anyone else. Of course, anything that is unique is going to be difficult to reproduce, and so it is with the notated piano parts of my songs. I work very hard to ensure that the written accompaniments really represent what I might play on any given day, and so there is a lot of detail – to some pianists, a daunting level of detail indeed. For twenty years now, I’ve had singers tell me that they can’t find pianists who can play my songs “right.” It’s hard enough singing my material properly under the best of circumstances, but when the accompaniment isn’t correct – when the singer doesn’t feel supported by the pianist – it can make some of my stuff all but impossible to learn.

Hence these two volumes, which consist of eleven songs each for male and female voices (based on the gender for which they were originally written). The intention wasn’t to provide performance tracks – I firmly believe that my songs, like all the best musical theatre songs, depend on a give-and-take between singer and accompanist that can only be achieved live. Nor was the intention to document some “definitive” version of these accompaniments; I’m not sure I believe in such a thing. Simply put, these recordings are just one additional tool to help pianists and singers better understand and implement my intentions and style, to be used in conjunction with the published sheet music and the cast albums and solo recordings on which those songs have been featured.

The best versions of any of my songs are the ones where the musicians (singers included) are deeply engaged with the emotions and the passions hiding underneath and around the written rhythms and pitches and lyrics. It is my hope that the recordings collected here help singers and pianists alike to bring these songs to life in their own way. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Rick Walters and Joel Boyd at Hal Leonard, as well as Andy Waterman, who engineered these recordings at his beautiful studio in Chatsworth, CA. It was a real blast getting to play these songs, and I hope you’ll love singing along with them!

To buy the full collections from Amazon.com, here are the links:

Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown: Men’s Edition with CD
Jason Robert Brown Plays Jason Robert Brown: Women’s Edition with CD

 

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.

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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!

13

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.

13 in Your Classroom

Jason Robert Brown is the songwriter and lyricist for 13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway MusicalBelow is an excerpt from the libretto’s introduction, as seen on stagenotes.net.

From the age of eleven until I turned eighteen, I spent my summers at a music and theater camp called French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, a pretentious and ridiculous name that perfectly suited the pretentious and ridiculous upper-middle-class teenagers who went there (and still do). French Woods promised its campers an immersive experience in the arts; what mattered most to me as an aspiring thespian were the thirty or so plays and musicals that were produced there every summer.

I know it can’t be true that the version of Nine I saw at French Woods in 1986 was superior to Tommy Tune’s Tony Award-winning original production, but as far as my memory is concerned, there’s no contest. I am convinced that when I was in Merrily We Roll Along that same summer, we made that show work in ways it never did before or since. And it doesn’t matter what Neil Simon says—the definitive Eugene Morris Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs is Doug Shapiro of Miller Place, Long Island, even though he only did the show in a two-hundred-seat un-air-conditioned theater in upstate New York filled with restless suburban drama nerds, and even though the girl who played his mother was fifteen. There is a certain strange comfort in not attempting to reconcile these memories with the more likely reality that we looked exactly like the bunch of gawky, goofy amateurs playing dress-up that we were. It doesn’t matter. We felt the current crackling through the theater, and we knew we got it right.

Some of us campers did end up making a life in the theater, but for those summers, all of us were making a life from the theater. We were nurtured and sustained and given meaning not just by the words and songs and dances that inhabited our bodies but by the communion of sharing the stage with our friends, our mentors, and our audience. Once I became a “professional,” once I joined the ragtag army of artists who count on the theater to pay their bills and provide a long and consistent career, that communion became ever more elusive. It is simply true that in spite of anyone’s best intentions, professional artists are not “all in this together.” We are climbing and fighting and pushing for a life that at least occasionally resembles the thing that we all fell in love with in the first place, and for the vast majority of us, that thing remains tantalizingly in the distance.

Keep reading this post on stagenotes.net.

13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical

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.

A Sondheim Story from Jason Robert Brown

Guest Blogger: Jason Robert Brown is the librettist of The Last Five Years and 13. Below is an excerpt from his blog, which is a reposting of what appeared in The Sondheim Review in 2010. Please visit his blog for the full story.

In order to tell this story, I have to hide someone’s identity. He was my best friend back then. I myself have shown a surprising willingness over the years to demonstrate and recount my own stupidity, but this person has been understandably more reluctant to do so. Nonetheless, he is part of the story and it can’t be told without him, so I’ll refer to him by an alias: He shall be known as Franz Liszt.

OK, here goes. It’s 1993. I’m 23 years old. All I dream about is writing for the musical theatre. I have been dreaming of it for 10 years, nonstop, and it is because of the work of Stephen Sondheim. Had it not been for Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park With George, I would have probably joined a rock band and tried to be Billy Joel. But once I heard what could be done, what enormous musical and emotional potential could be unleashed, I knew I had to write musicals. To say I’m a Sondheim Worshiper is to understate the case considerably — I owe my ambition and my dreams to him. Without his example, I wouldn’t even know who to become.

By this time, I’ve met Steve (can I call him Steve?) a couple of times, primarily because of my relationship with Daisy Prince, and he’s always been perfectly cordial, but I’m still utterly intimidated by him and, having been told of his withering wit, I’m wary of engaging too much with him for fear of being eviscerated by some casual sarcasm. I don’t want to come off like some teenage musical theatre geek, but honestly, I sort of am a teenage musical theatre geek and I know how uncool that is. So I keep my distance.

Franz is not as sheepish as I. He’s a little older, but he’s also devastatingly charming, impossibly talented, and confident that he can guide any conversation safely to shore. I occasionally refer to him as “The Waring Blender” because he is so smooth.

Keep reading this post on JASON ROBERT BROWN‘s blog.

The Last Five YearsAn emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their twenties who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show’s unconventional structure consists of Cathy, the woman, telling her story backwards while Jamie, the man, tells his story chronologically; the two characters meet only once, at their wedding in the middle of the show. Jason Robert Brown won Drama Desk Awards for the music and the lyrics after the Off-Broadway premiere in 2002 starring Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott. The show has since been produced at almost every major regional theater in the U.S., and has been seen in Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Italy, Canada, Spain, and the UK.

 

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.