Jason Robert Brown (born June 20, 1970) is an American musical theatre composer, lyricist, and playwright. Brown's music sensibility fuses pop-rock stylings with theatrical lyrics. An accomplished pianist, Brown has often served as music director, conductor, orchestrator, and pianist for his own productions. He has won Tony Awards for his work on Parade and The Bridges of Madison County.
Brown grew up in the suburbs of New York City, and attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York for 2 years. During summer, he attended French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in Hancock, New York. He said Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Sunday in the Park with George were two of his biggest influences, and had it not been for them, he would have joined a rock band and tried to be Billy Joel.
He began his career in New York City as an arranger, conductor, and pianist, working on shows such as William Finn's A New Brain, and playing at several nightclubs and piano bars in the city. Songs for a New World marked the first major New York production of Brown's songs. An off-Broadway revue with a limited run, the show was directed by Daisy Prince, daughter of director/producer Hal Prince, and featured the 25-year-old Brown's pop-rock-influenced music. The song "Stars and the Moon" has since become a cabaret standard, and is probably Brown's best-known composition to date.
Brown was introduced to Harold Prince through his association with Daisy Prince, and was hired to write songs for the Broadway musical Parade, based on the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. Parade, directed by Hal Prince, and with a book by Alfred Uhry, won Brown the 1999 Tony Award for Best Original Musical Score. During this production, Livent, one of the producers of Parade, pulled out after reviews were not as positive as they'd hoped. RCA Victor, the other major producer, decided it would pull out as well. Brown said of the event in 1999, "Livent dropped out shortly after the reviews came out. They announced they would not spend another dime on the show. RCA had an agreement to record all of Livent's shows. But when Livent pulled out of 'Parade,' the RCA higher-ups said they were pulling out, too. I had to go to Billy Rosenfield and ask him: 'What if we pay for this record and you just distribute it?' Billy said, 'Sure.'" Brown had to try to scrounge money from every corner, "In the end, RCA put in $25,000, Lincoln Center put in a big chunk, around $200,000, including the producer Scott Rudin's $25,000, and there was a contribution from the Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla foundation, which has helped support a lot of musical theatre composers over the years, of $40,000. Even Roy Furman, the new guy at Livent, gave us a little money. Somehow, we pulled it together." Livent also was struggling at the time because the company had mishandled funds while allying for bankruptcy protection.
Brown went back to working with Daisy Prince for his third major show The Last Five Years, for which he wrote the book as well as songs. Inspired by his own failed first marriage, the show is a two-person musical which tells the history of a relationship from two different perspectives. The male's narrative begins at the beginning of the story and progresses through marriage, infidelity, and divorce, while the female narrative begins at the end of the relationship and ends with the couple's first date; the two actors' only direct interaction takes place midpoint, during the wedding sequence. The original Chicago cast consisted of Norbert Leo Butz and Lauren Kennedy, with Sherie Rene Scott over the New York run. The Last Five Years received mixed critical reviews and was not a commercial success, lasting only two months off-Broadway, although Brown garnered 2 Drama Desk Awards for music and lyrics. Additionally, due to the cast recording featuring Scott and Butz, the show has gained popularity among contemporary musical theatre aficionados and is an oft-performed piece in regional and community theatres. A film version of the show, featuring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, was released in February 2015.
Brown contributed several songs to the Broadway flop Urban Cowboy. He had worked as an orchestrator with director Phillip Oesterman on the Off-Broadway musical New York Rock, and Oesterman called on him to help him out with Urban Cowboy. Urban Cowboy had been denied the use of the Clint Black catalog, and Brown came in and wrote a few songs (with help from director Lonny Price, who replaced Oesterman after he died). The show was nominated, with 30 other composers, for the 2003 Tony Award for best Musical Score, losing out to Hairspray.
He also teaches courses in musical theatre performance and composition at the University of Southern California. Brown is an active performer of his own work, singing and playing the piano with or without his band, the Caucasian Rhythm Kings (Gary Sieger, guitar, and Randy Landau, bass).
Brown's tween-oriented musical 13 premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, CA on January 7, 2007. It opened on Broadway October 5, 2008 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, and closed on January 4, 2009.
His Bridges of Madison County, a musical adaption of the film with Marsha Norman premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on August 1, 2013. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the cast featured Elena Shaddow as Francesca and Steven Pasquale. The musical opened on Broadway on February 27, 2014, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, starring Kelli O'Hara as Francesca.
According to Brown, Brian Lowdermilk used to be an assistant to him. Brown has recently publicized his personal efforts to discourage the unauthorized online sharing of his copyrighted sheet music via an e-mail conversation with a teenager named Eleanor.
Current projects include adapting a French musical with Alfred Uhry for Kathleen Marshall, a screenplay for a film version of 13, and releasing a solo album in the summer of 2011. One of his songs, entitled "Another Life", is featured on Kelli O'Hara's 2011 album Always. A film adaptation of his popular musical The Last Five Years starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan was completed in July 2013, first shown at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014, and was released on Valentine's Day, 2015; the movie soundtrack on Sh-K-Boom Records was released February 10, 2015. The film was directed by PS, I Love You director, Richard LaGravenese.
Brown has many trademarks in his composing style, which is often rhythmically dynamic and harmonically unconventional, calling for a wide vocal range. His vocal lines often include internal rhymes, as well as melodic phrases which do not adhere to a predictable 4-measure length. He favors songs in written in AABA' form, with some exceptions to this form in his show Parade. Perhaps most characteristic are his love duets; all five ("I'd Give it All for You" from Songs for a New World, "All the Wasted Time" from Parade, "The Next Ten Minutes" from The Last Five Years, "Tell Her" from 13, and "One Second And A Million Miles" from The Bridges of Madison County) are written in a very distinct format: male-female-both, compound time in the duet section (two using hemiola), and four of the five end with the couple singing the same pitch.
Brown was born in Ossining, New York. He was raised Jewish. He was previously married to Theresa O'Neil, and their failed marriage inspired his musical The Last Five Years. Since 2003, Brown has been married to fellow composer Georgia Stitt. Together, they have two daughters.
|1999||Tony Award||Best Original Score||Parade||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding New Musical||Won|
|New York Drama Critics' Circle Award||Best Musical||Won|
|2002||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Music||The Last Five Years||Won|
|2014||Tony Award||Best Original Score||The Bridges of Madison County||Won|
|Drama Desk Awards||Outstanding Music||Won|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding New Score||Won|
|2015||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Music||Honeymoon in Vegas||Nominated|
Original cast recordings were made for Songs for a New World, Parade, The Last Five Years, 13, The Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas. "Stars and the Moon" has been recorded many times, including on Audra McDonald's Way Back to Paradise and Betty Buckley's Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar.
Actress Lauren Kennedy, who originated the role of Cathy in the Chicago production of The Last Five Years, released Songs of Jason Robert Brown, featuring Brown's compositions from his previous shows, as well as several previously unreleased songs.
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