Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade) performed a magic trick last night. No, he didn’t pull a rabbit out of his piano but, like a master of slight of hand, he knew what card I had and, with an emotional musical flourish, amazed and astounded the audience by calling it perfectly.
I was lucky enough to attend the CAP21 Spring Gala honoring Brown and his wife, fellow composer Georgia Stitt. The evening included a number of lovely performances, including a premiere song from Brown’s upcoming adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, sung by the exquisite Kelli O’Hara, but the highlight was when the composer sat down at his piano to sing “Music of Heaven.” I’ll be honest (and I’m not proud of this), I can be competitive and analytical when I listen to theater music from younger, non-canonical composers. And now he was going to perform his own song…well, smell you, fancy pants.
Then he began to sing, in a strong and expressive voice, about his experience attending a Gospel concert and feeling outside the music, unwilling to make a leap of real faith. He sang of being a cynical New Yorker “with a frozen smile” and I realized that stiff grin was on my face. When he ached to be opened by the music, I felt that urge in myself. This mirroring carried me through the song, dramatically allowing me to experience what Brown had, and left me emotionally exposed and uplifted. The ovation at the end of the song certainly suggested that I was not alone in feeling like something special had happened. Brown’s sophisticated craftsmanship made a personal moment into something universal and strikingly beautiful. He made magic…with nothing up his sleeves but talent and artistry.
After the jump, watch Jason Robert Brown singing, with Georgia Stitt conducting, another recent and quite similar concert performance of “Music of Heaven.”