Since I was about 16, I have been in love with the music of Jason Robert Brown. Musical-theatre-phobes look away now; this is a gushy one. All this time I have had the original cast recording of his innovative two-person show The Last Five Years, which (in thinly veiled autobiography) tells the story of a passionate, painful, beautiful five year relationship. Even in my mid-teens, knowing little of love and heartbreak, the honesty of the music grabbed my attention. No note, chord or lyric is wasted and every song perfectly encompasses a relationship scenario we can all relate to. There's no way to describe the genuinely modern, hilarious and tragic quality of JRB's work, but if you are at all interested in musicals, get hold of this and his revue Songs For a New World.
I went to see the fabulous Notes from New York production of The Last Five Years last week with such high expectations of the songs and characters I have been besotted with for so long - for five years, incidentally. It is rarely on in London, so I jumped at the chance to finally become better acquainted with the piece. Starring as Cathy was Julie Atherton, who I recently saw in the brilliant Avenue Q, and she more than delivered as an alternately sweet and sour tempest of a woman, accompanied by her usual supreme vocals. I hadn't seen Paul Spicer in anything thus far (he is the co-producer for the Notes from New York production, as well as starring) but I was completely seduced by his cocky, romantic, ambitious Jamie, a part which he made sweeter and funnier than I had envisioned it, to great effect. Being in the second row of the stalls felt both uncomfortable and hypnotic; you felt awkwardly wedged between them in the bad moments of the relationship and oddly voyeuristic during the good.
What struck me the most, especially in light of its autobiographical core, was how balanced the production was; the male protagonist is cocky, cruel at times and even unfaithful, but his love interest is also stubborn, confrontational and closed off at times. You can love and hate and totally relate to both all the way through. The minimalist set put the spotlight completely on the two actors, and the structure of the show (her songs begin at the end of the relationship and work backwards, his run vice versa and they meet in the middle) made it incredibly moving.
Something wonderful about composer-lyricists is that often the melody and lyrics become completely inextricable, and Brown is the best example of this. Many themes appear instrumentally in the show before words are put to them, and when they are, the emotion of the melody immediately makes sense. I feel I could see this show a hundred times over a hundred years and recognise something different in myself every time; maybe this is the product of someone with real life experience. Either way, my talent-crush on Jason Robert Brown is bigger than ever.
In life news, my second week at Elle is going great, I feel like I'm on top of things and like I'm making an impression, and there has been talk of possibly getting to go to film screenings and review books for their wonderful Preview section, which I'm ridiculously excited about. I'm also going to see the other Notes from New York show this Saturday, Jonathan Larson's Tick, Tick... Boom! I know nothing about this musical so it will be a contrast to how emotionally invested I was in last week's show. I'm hoping to have a bit of a theatre-going year, so any show recommendations are very welcome.