Posted on March 22, 2006 at 4:22 pm

Hey y’all! Eventually, we’ll be able to post these directly to the “ASK JRB!” page, but while we’re busy setting up the rest of the site, I thought I’d just send these out now! You asked some really great questions, and I had a lot of fun writing subtly evasive answers.
Rick Piper asks:
Is Last Five Years being performed anywhere in US in next few months? I saw it in Philadelphia two years ago–I saw it 3 times–it was brilliant!
JRB responds:
There seems to be some production of “The Last Five Years” happening everywhere, for which my accountant is supremely grateful. That Philadelphia production was pretty awesome, directed by the amazing Joe Calarco and starring Nicole van Giesen and Wayne Wilcox. It was a great production! It’s hard for me to know about all of them, and the best place to look to find out where performances are happening is on the MTI website. Just click on the title of the show you’re interested in and at the bottom will be a partial list of upcoming productions. As far as “Last Five Years” goes, the most exciting production I know of coming up is at the Pasadena Playhouse this summer, in rep (!) with “I Do, I Do!,” another two-character musical about marriage. When I know more about that production, I’ll let you all know!

Josefien Kleverlaan asks:
I’ve got a question about the song ‘Christmas Lullaby’. I really love this song and I’ve chosen to sing this song for a few upcoming auditions. The only problem is: the show “Songs for a new world” has never been staged here, so I have no idea what the thought behind this song is. Could you please tell me what happened with the woman who sings this and why she sings it?
JRB responds:
One of these days, I’ll have to do a guide to the whole script of “Songs for a New World.” I always thought these songs were fairly self-explanatory, but in the last eleven years, I’ve had enough questions about “What does this mean?” to prove me wrong. As far as “Christmas Lullaby,” it’s a song about a young girl who’s just discovered she’s pregnant. I imagine her to be alone in the world, probably broke, and generally hopeless. Having this child is the scariest, bravest, happiest, weirdest thing that she could possibly do, and she decides at the end of the song that no matter what the consequences, her whole life has led her to the moment when she could have this child.
UPDATE: I just found this, which is something I wrote last year in response to another e-mail about “Christmas Lullaby.”
It’s about a girl who feels completely powerless and alone in the world, but decides to have a baby so she can change those things. But she’s not “scheming”, she has just made a decision (which she’s also scared about) to bring this other life into the world because she thinks it will make her life better. The key is to not play the song dark at any point – even the line “I’ll suffer any pains” has to be proud and honest; she’ll make whatever sacrifices she has to make to bring something beautiful into the world. Someone asked me if it was supposed to be the Virgin Mary singing. Up to you.

Mindy Cimini asks:
Any advice for aspiring pianists? I know that’s not entirely what you do for a living, and I’ll probably head in a classical direction if I pursue piano in college (I’m a HS sophomore right now)…but it would still be interesting to hear your opinions.
JRB responds:
Hey, Mindy. Here’s the thing that I think is the most important advice I can pass on to you: nobody ever teaches young pianists about time and feel. I think the reason I was able to get work in the theater early on was because I knew how to play in time and in tempo and with the appropriate feels. (I also had a couple of great conductors tell me where I was screwing up.) Playing “in time” means being able to keep every sixteenth-note at exactly the same length, to place every quarter-note the same distance from the one before. You’d be amazed how few pianists can do it consistently over the course of a three-minute or four-minute song without speeding up and slowing down all over the place. And “feel” is knowing that you play a swing number differently than a classical piece, that you play a rock song with different energy than you play a show tune. Again, it’s really rare to find pianists who can not only play the notes on the page but play them the way they’re supposed to sound. Start listening to different pianists, not just me but Dave Frishberg, Michel Petrucciani, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Oscar Peterson. If you really want a trippy experience, dig this: Marc-Andre Hamelin (who can play anything) did an album on Hyperion of music by a crazy Russian jazz-classical composer named Kapustin. To hear a “legit” guy play such style-heavy music so beautifully is really unbelievable. It completely sets a new standard. Here’s the album on Amazon.com.

Pete Howland asks:
At present I’m working on Shiksa Goddess, one of my favorite songs from the show. I should say first that I have somewhat of a higher Tenor voice, and my lowest comfortable note is a B flat. When I try to reach for the held out A in Shiksa Goddess, I end up in glottal fry. My voice teacher and I tried several different things to try to get the note out of me, but it seems that my low range has reached a limit. She suggested that I speak with you, to come up with an alternate note, or way to speak it so the meaning of the line isn’t lost. I am so close to being ready to perform the show, this one note is the only thing that I can’t seem to sing. I would love to hear any suggestions you might have.
JRB responds:
This is a dangerous response, but I think it’s true: glottal fry is, in your case, probably exactly what that particular note demands. It’s supposed to be funny; if you can really commit to it, you’ll get a laugh. Work with the instrument that you have and make the most of it. I don’t recommend that choice for everyone; if you can hit the note, then hit it good and strong and spooky and have a party with it. But for you, make the best of the limitation you’ve got, croak that thing out and enjoy it. However, if you really can’t produce any sound at all down there, then I would honestly suggest just transposing the song up a half step or a step until it all fits in your range. Keys in musicals are not always writ in stone; if Norbert hadn’t been able to hit that low A, I would have modulated the song up a step for him.

Kathy Stein asks:
I have a question about Shiksa Goddess that I can’t figure out even in discussing it with my best friend, James. The song always confused me, since Cathy is not Jewish, which makes sense for the breaking Jamie’s mother’s heart, JCC crumbling in the ground, grandfather rolling in the grave, etc. However, at that point, Jamie talks about all the things that Cathy COULD be as long as she’s NOT from Hebrew school. Which, clearly, she’s not. So I guess I’m missing something about the song somewhere. The standing for days with the phone in his hand like an idiot scared to death and not caring about his people suffering for thousands of years is all cool, but it seems like he’s saying he thinks she IS from Hebrew school. Is it just that this early in the relationship he doesn’t know if she’s Jewish or not? I’m dying to know!
JRB responds:
Kathy, I’ve read your question over five different times and I can’t tell what you’re asking me. Jamie is telling us that his perfect woman could be any number of things as long as she’s not Jewish, therefore Hey Hey Shiksa Goddess, I’ve been waiting for someone like you. My wife read your question too and she doesn’t see what your problem is. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but you can at least rest assured that you are as confounding to me as I am to you.

Sungpil Kim asks:
I decided to perform “The New World” and “River Won’t Flow” with my friends – they are great singers who are willing to go on Broadway later in their lives. I was just going to perform “The New World” with the piano accompaniment in the songbook, but I think it will be nicer if you don’t mind to allow me to use the full score of that song, and “The River Won’t Flow” (I couldn’t find the music of this song).
JRB responds:
Apparently, a lot of my colleagues will send out copies of their unpublished material to anyone who asks. I can’t, I really can’t. Honestly and truly, the amount of time that would take out of my day is just unbelievable. (The expense adds up, too, I promise.) I’ve only got one assistant, and he’s got his hands full dealing with everything else in my life. I try to make a blanket rule of not sending anything to anyone, and hopefully that way it’s at least fair even if everyone hates me. The fact is, this is why I have a publisher, and if Hal Leonard decides that “The River Won’t Flow” isn’t going to sell enough copies to make it worthwhile to publish, that’s their business decision to make and I’m bound to listen to them. They do listen very carefully to what people are looking for, and all the requests I had over the years for “Just One Step” inspired them to include it in a couple of anthologies last year. So for all of you who wish I could make an unpublished song available to you, keep asking and I’ll keep forwarding the requests to Hal Leonard, and please accept my apologies for not being able to give you all the individual attention that Stephen Schwartz apparently can give you.

Lucy Downing asks:
I’m very anxiously awaiting information on the April 17 concert in Springfield, MO and keep checking the site regularly. Is there any information in regards to that show that you haven’t had a chance to post yet that you could share?
JRB responds:
I’m waiting for the contract! They keep promising me that it’s coming and then they don’t deliver! All I know is that on April 16, I’m supposed to be doing a masterclass somewhere at MSU, and then on April 17, the extraordinary Nicole van Giesen will be joining me for a concert somewhere at MSU. I wish I could tell you more, but at the moment, that’s all I know. Go ask Chris Leavy what’s taking so long.

Erin Koch asks:
I was on the amazing Sara Ramirez’s website and listened to a few sound clips where she was singing demos from HOME, a new musical. Your name was associated with this material I believe, and you were also featured on other parts of her website…so, is HOME yours? I was absolutely crazy about it! After much searching, however, I couldn’t find any information about a new musical called HOME!
JRB responds:
After I read your e-mail, I went to look at Sara’s website. Turns out to be pretty cool, especially since it has some songs from “The Capeman” that I hadn’t heard since I saw the show. Then I saw that Sara posted a recording of her singing “And I Will Follow” from a concert we did together a couple of years ago, and she sings her ass off, as always. (The fiddle soloist is Christian Hebel, if anyone was wondering.) So thank you for sending me there and letting me see that and reminding me that I was, for one night at least, associated with that incredibly talented woman. (I’m really enjoying watching her on “Grey’s Anatomy.”) Then, at the bottom of the page I saw the demos for “Home,” but my name isn’t anywhere on those demos, I’ve never written a show called “Home,” and I don’t know what the heck those are. Maybe you should ask sararamirez@sararamirez.com!

Jochem Morbeck asks:
I have a question about “Last five years”. Will it ever be performed again? The soundtrack has made a great impression on me… But I discovered it about five years too late. I would love to see it in a theatre.
JRB responds:
See my response to Rick Piper above. Since you live in the Netherlands, it might be harder to get to a production any time soon, but if you do hear of a Dutch production, please let me know!

Sameer Kapadia asks:
As an Indian/Pakistani-American performer, its inspiring to see the market for ethnic actors is increasing due the direction that you and other prominent composers are taking musical theatre. Still, It would really help me out if you could write a piece about Indians/Pakistanis!
JRB responds:
Well, Sameer, if the right idea comes along, I’d write it in a second. I think, like most writers, I gravitate to stories that resonate with my experience of the world, and I therefore find it easiest to write about straight Jewish writers from New York; but with “Parade” and with another project I’m currently working on with Charlayne Woodard, I’ve been able to start getting under the skin of people whose experiences and worldviews are substantially different from my own, and I find that to be a thrilling and powerful challenge. So who knows? Perhaps a Pakistani musical is on its way soon!

Heather Watson asks:
Will Songs for a New World come back to NYC in the near future? I missed it the first time around, yet the soundtrack is an absolute favorite of mine. I would love to see a production of it.
JRB responds:
I’d love to have a production of “Songs for a New World” in New York again, I just want to make sure it’s the right one. Daisy Prince did a magnificent job of bringing that show to life in 1995, with a beautiful set and a magnificent cast, but not very many people saw that production – it only ran for 28 performances! I still think the show works best with a cast of four people and a band of five, without any additional dialogue or story, on a unit set, with only the songs we put in it eleven years ago. So if anyone wants to do a production of “Songs for a New World” in New York, they have to trust what we did and respect it. Admit it, nothing would make you grumpier than paying $70 (or more!) to see “Songs for a New World” and having it turn out to be a mediocre cast, or a terrible director who imposed some awful “vision” on the show. So I have rejected some applications to do the show in NYC because I’m just trying to keep that from happening. We’ll get another production of the show in New York eventually, I’m certain of it, and it will be one that makes me as proud as the one we did at the WPA Theater all those years ago.

Philip King asks:
I was wondering if you could tell me how to get a copy of the song “A Miracle Would Happen” from THE LAST FIVE YEARS. I have the vocal selections book, but it’s not in there.
JRB responds:
See my response to Sungpil Kim above. The fact is that we deliberately left some things out of the vocal selections book for “Last Five Years” because we didn’t want a rash of “pirate” productions all over the country. So my stance on “A Miracle Would Happen” is that if you want to do the song, you’ll have to rent the materials for the show from MTI. Sorry about that!

Keith Johnson asks:
I was wondering if the printed music to “Someone to Fall Back On” was or will be available.
and then Chris Drew asks:
One song that has really moved me is “Someone To Fall Back On.” I would love to learn this song. Is there any plan to release sheet music for this?
and then Marshman21 asks:
Does sheet music for “Someone To Fall Back On” exist? Or, will it exist? I’d love to try singing it!
at which point Rob Goren asks:
I was wondering when your song book will be released. We are having a family party on April 1 and I would love to sing the song Someone to Fall Back On.
and the great Lee Lessack asks:
What are the chances of getting a lead sheet for “Someone To Fall Back On?”
and finally Michael Betteridge asks:
I really would love to learn “I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You,” it was a shame it couldn’t be included in L5Y. Is there any way of getting hold of piano/vocal music?
JRB responds:
Yes! “The Jason Robert Brown Collection” from Hal Leonard should be out in April from Hal Leonard. If you want to see what the cover looks like, check this out.

Jennifer Bowler asks:
I am a music teacher for a middle school. Do you write any choral arrangements for kids? I know there are the songs in your musicals that include a chorus, but I didn’t know if there were published arrangements specifically for chorus. (SAB voicing is best but SATB is manageable depending on how low the Bass part is) I would love to introduce your music to my students.
JRB responds:
I don’t have anything specifically for a middle school chorus. “Coming Together,” available in the “JRB Collection” songbook, includes the full choral score, but that may be a bit advanced for a middle school group. My other choral piece is “Chanukah Suite,” which will have its own page in the Music section of this website soon, but again, that’s very difficult choral singing. You’ve got me thinking about what I can do, so perhaps I’ll come up with something. The good news is that the entire score of my next show, “13,” was designed to be performed by middle schoolers, so perhaps there’ll be something in there that you can easily adapt for your students!

Logan Stein asks:
You wrote Last Five Years, this we know. Then for the first time you performed in it. How hard was it to memorize it? Was it spooky learning lines that came out of your head? Or did you learn it very quickly and easily due to the fact it was your writing.
JRB responds:
Actually, the performance that you saw with Julia Murney in Los Angeles was the third time I’ve performed in “The Last Five Years”; the other two times (in Adelaide, S. Australia and New York City) were with Lauren Kennedy. Anyway, I didn’t really memorize it – I had the score in front of me all the time. However, conducting AND playing AND singing at the same time meant I really didn’t have a chance to look at the music more than, say, once a page. Learning the words wasn’t all that hard, since I take a long time sculpting lyrics and I generally can remember why I picked one sentence instead of another. (The one thing I never could learn “off book” was Jamie’s monologue, when he reads the short story. Since there was no music, I couldn’t find the internal rhythm of that section unless the words were literally in front of me. Luckily, that works dramatically!) The piano parts were actually much harder to memorize, even though I played them every night in New York – they’re just much more specific than most of my other writing, and because there are a lot of times when one instrument is doubling the piano, I had to make sure I played exactly the right notes. Things like “The Schmuel Song” are brutally difficult to remember, since there are no good page turns in the entire piece!

Brett Epstein asks:
Jason, how can I attend the seminar on the 22nd in L.A.? Is there a charge? Do I have to be in a club or something? I saw you speak at the Disney ASCAP panel on compostion, great work!
JRB responds:
As I noted in my mailing list, I’m holding a couple of spots open, you should e-mail me if you want one of the spots. No charge. I’m glad you liked the ASCAP panel, I really enjoyed getting to talk to Stephen Schwartz about our respective processes.

Brian Michael Hoffman asks:
Any plans on releasing an “Urban Cowboy” cd?
JRB responds:
Not that I know of. The cast didn’t go in to the studio to record the show, so there’s no definitive document of the score as it was performed on Broadway. (I only wrote five of the songs in the show.) Because the show was such a big flop, the score was dispersed and now ownership of the songs has reverted to the original publishers and no one has any control over the entity as a whole. So trying to do a recording of the show would be a publishing nightmare. Like I said, I recorded my songs, though some of them have me singing instead of the original cast members, but I don’t think those will be released any time soon – who’d sell a record with five songs on it? Hopefully, I’ll be able to broadcast them over time through my sound blog. I think Jeff Blumenkrantz has released some of his contributions to “Urban Cowboy” through his very entertaining podcast. Check it out here.

Rose Stephens-Booker asks:
I have bought everything composed by you that one can buy on iTunes. However, there is one downfall — No lyrics. Maybe in the future could you put up the lyrics to your work, preferably your solo album “Wearing Someone’s Clothes” and even “Songs of Jason Robert Brown.” Or maybe direct your fans to a website that lists them.
JRB responds:
They’re here! Right on this website!

Carole Silvoy wants to know:
On Lauren’s CD, that arrangement of “When You Come Home To Me” is a knock out. Is that going to be available for us Cabaret types?
JRB responds:
Hm, I’m thrilled you like that one, but I can’t see that we’ll be publishing it commercially. While Larry Hochman did a delicious job on that chart, it really isn’t miles different harmonically from what’s already in the vocal selections for “The Last Five Years.” I suspect a musical director with good ears could easily adapt it by listening to the CD.

Sunaddict asks:
I heard JRB is playing the role of Jamie in a production of L5Y in Pasadena CA, is this true?
JRB responds:
No, absolutely not. I’m really not interested in doing a run of the show, and I’m certainly not interested in doing it away from the piano. Trust me, no one wants to see me “act” like that, particularly since Jamie has to take his shirt off at one point in the show. My mother would die. But I’m looking forward to the Pasadena production very much, and they’ve asked me to help out as much as I can, so I think it’ll be a good one.

James Strauss asks:
I saw in Breakdown you’re composing the score/music for the State Farm conventions this summer. In the event you’re in town seeing/hearing ANY new people, please call me or my manager.
JRB responds:
Thanks for your interest, James. The casting director for the State Farm show is Mark Simon; your agent should feel free to get in touch with him. For those of you wondering what this is all about, every couple of years the State Farm insurance company produces a Broadway-style musical for its big sales convention, and they’ve hired me to write the score for the last three of these. We’re currently in pre-production on my fourth, which will be performed in Chicago this summer and Las Vegas this fall. But these productions aren’t open to the general public, they’re for State Farm agents and their employees only.

Megan Rocks asks:
My name is Megan Rocks (yes…that is my real last name) and I live in Athens, Georgia. I have the complete honor of playing “Cathy” in an upcoming production of your show, The Last Five Years. I have continuously listened to the music over and over for a few years now and never tire of it. So I guess I am being a cheeseball in saying thank you. 🙂
JRB responds:
Well, that wasn’t really a question, but I love compliments! Thanks for writing, and let us know how your production goes in Athens!

Michael Perez asks:
I heard that you are a teacher at the University of Southern California. Do you teach all semester long? I am very interested in composing for musical theatre, but I would still like to learn how to choral arrange and orchestrate better also.
JRB responds:
I do indeed teach at USC, though I teach in the theater school and not the music school, which means that I’m obligated to concentrate more on dramatic work than musical ideas. I teach a course in Acting The Song for performers, and I teach a course called Creating Music Theater for aspiring composers and librettists. But I don’t teach them consistently every semester, and I have limited my enrollment very strictly. Many high school students have asked me if they should apply to USC to study with me, and I tell them this: apply to USC because you want to go to USC. They have a great theater school and a great music school, and it’s a beautiful place to get a great education. But I can’t guarantee that I’ll be teaching when you get there, and if I am, I can’t guarantee you’ll get into my class. I may end up having a more regular schedule there sometime in a couple of years, but for now, we really aren’t planning ahead more than semester to semester.

Chris Littlefield asks:
I could use some advice. I’m relocating to New York in July, where I have lots of friends and a few contacts. My most valuable skill at the moment is probably sightreading. I music direct very successfully here, and, ultimately, that’s what I want to do in the future (amongst other things: writing, recording an album, etc.). Any thoughts on how to get a reputation established and get work? I’d REALLY appreciate any thoughts you have.
JRB responds:
Hey, Chris, great to hear from you! I enjoyed hearing you play at UTSA. My advice to you is use the skills that set you apart. If you’re a great sightreader, that makes you very valuable as an audition pianist. You should call all the casting directors in town and announce your availability for their auditions; they always need people for that. But beyond that, New York is about persistence. Sub on every single show you can, play for every single cabaret singer you can find, just be out there pushing hard. Meet every pianist, let them know you’re looking for work, it’s a good network. It’s a grueling transition, but if you’re good, you’ll work; everyone is always looking for talented, versatile pianists, and the best ones are always busy. Let me know how it goes!

Carolyn Miller asks:
More info on the Temecula concert in May, please. I live in San Diego, and would gladly drive the short hour to see you!
JRB responds:
I’m working on it, I promise! Just keep checking the website. All I know right now is that it will be on May 21, a Sunday, probably in the evening, and will feature me and the Caucasian Rhythm Kings!

Michael Kaplan asks:
I heard a rumor that a JRB concert was coming to either the New York or New Jersey area. I was wondering if it was true because if it is I have to start saving for my ticket. Thank you.
JRB responds:
Weirdly, you wrote and asked this before I even planned to do the concert in New York in April. But now I am, so you must be a prophet! I’ll be at Birdland on Tuesday April 4 at 8 pm with the Caucasian Rhythm Kings and the dazzling Jenn Colella! Start saving now!

Nick Spina asks:
I am a little confused about “I Can Do Better Than That”. Cathy refers to “a guy she met in a class she was taking who you might say looked like Tom Cruise,” is that Jamie or is that a different boyfriend? And if it’s a different boyfriend, did he blow her off with a letter, like Jamie did at the beginning of the show?
JRB responds:
The guy she meets in class is not Jamie; she’s telling the story TO Jamie as they drive to meet her parents. And yes, this ex-boyfriend blew her off with a letter, but it never occurred to me until your note that Cathy was doomed to be dumped via letter over and over again throughout her life, poor thing. Anyway, here’s a fun fact: When Lauren and I did a concert this summer, it was right when Tom Cruise sort of jumped the shark and basically began acting like he wore a tin-foil hat all day long to better contact the aliens. So we decided that the Tom Cruise line in the song would get the wrong kind of laugh. It’s supposed to suggest that the guy is sexy, not that he’s a poster child for The Crazy Club. So we changed the lyric, and anyone doing the song has my blessing to make this substitution henceforth: “Met a guy in a class I was taking WITH SOME VERY WELL-PLACED TATTOOS.” Enjoy. But don’t get confused and use this line, as Julia Murney did in rehearsal: “Met a guy in a class I was taking with some very expensive shoes.” He’s supposed to be sexy, not metrosexual.

Brian Fenty asks:
What is the intended relationship/theme in “River Won’t Flow” in your eyes? I am having trouble placing a situation to the text in a meaningful way and I was just wondering, in a word or two, where you saw this song.
JRB responds:
When I originally conceived “The River Won’t Flow,” it was sung by a newly homeless guy and a guy who’d been homeless for a long time, fighting in an alleyway. (Sensitive, right?) The first guy just got there, he feels like he deserves some sympathy for his situation, but the second guy thinks the first guy is a spoiled brat who should get acquainted with the realities of life. Then there are the two girls singing backup, I have no idea what they’re doing. Daisy staged this beautifully, basically turning it into a fight about a stool – Brooks entered, aimed for the stool, but Billy snatched it away from him at the last minute in a gesture of supreme droit du seigneur, so Brooks then began singing the first verse of the song. The two women came out to separate them when the fight got heated.

Corey Castle asks:
My question is about “Someone to Fall Back On” on your album “Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes.” It seems to be written around the time of “The Last Five Years” and could possibly be a song cut from the show. What is the history of this song?
JRB responds:
I can tell you that this song had nothing whatsoever to do with “The Last Five Years,” it was written before any of that show was in place. I actually wrote “Someone To Fall Back On” in the basement of Lincoln Center Theater one night after a performance of “Parade.” I think the song works better if you don’t know what I was thinking about. I guess I can say that the project I was planning it for never came to fruition, which is probably just as well. There was a point in writing “The Last Five Years” where Daisy suggested I use “Someone To Fall Back On,” but that was just because it took me three months to write the wedding sequence in the show and she was tired of waiting!

Rick Rea asks:
What advice would you give to musical theatre songwriters?
JRB responds:
WRITE SONGS! Learn how to write a thirty-two bar AABA song before you go off trying to write eleven-minute quasi-operatic sequences. The problem I see most often in younger writers is a complete lack of understanding of structure. Songs are based on structure, and if your audience intuitively grasps your structure, you can get away with almost anything, but if you don’t have a clear understanding of song structure, your audience will just be baffled and frustrated. It doesn’t matter these days if you have songs in your show that could be on the radio or MTV, but why not set that up as a challenge for yourself? Why not make every song in the show as clean and clear and accessible as possible? I know there are some people who’ll read this and yell out, “Nice glass house, Chico,” and I don’t have a response to that except to say that I think all my work, regardless of whether it’s good or not, is solidly, fiercely grounded in clear comprehensible structures. Maybe you think it works, maybe you think it doesn’t, but I think it’s how you can tell the pros from the wannabes.

Becky Nevin asks:
At the end of LFY, why is Goodbye Until Tomorrow sung by both Jamie and Kathy whereas all the other songs with the exception of Next Ten Minutes are solos? I like the overlapping effect, but was just wondering why you choose to do it that way.
JRB responds:
I just thought it was the logical way to wrap up the show. “The Last Five Years” is a very dense piece textually, and I thought the best way to sum it up was to have the two characters be in complete reversal of their positions at the top of the show simultaneously.

Liz Adams asks:
I am curious, how does it feels to know that the music that you’ve written has affected so many people?
JRB responds:
That’s a tough question. I’m obviously very pleased, honored that the work I do touches people and inspires them, and I’m moved all the time by the kind of response my work gets when I do concerts or see productions of my shows or just get fan mail. I feel very lucky to have the fans that I have. But. I also have a very keen sense of how limited that audience is. The popular culture of the day really doesn’t embrace the work that I do in any grand sense, and that’s frustrating; no one’s going to be singing my songs on “American Idol.” I’m okay with that, but it’s complicated. I never meant to be a “cult” writer, and it’s a weird thing to write songs and know, before the ink is dry on the page, that only a certain number of people will hear them. You should hear what record company people tell me about the work I do, how it’s too smart, it’s too complicated, it’s not perky enough, it’s all very “Broadway”, whatever that means. I always want to say, “But look at my fans! They’re everything, they’re young and old and black and white and Asian and Hispanic and in the city and on the farm and they’re hip and they’re square and they’re gay and straight and everything else! Why do you have to limit what I do?” But I know that those record company guys are right, as far as mainstream America goes. It’s facile to say that pop culture is trash or that I’m better than that; there’s a lot of really good stuff in the mainstream and a lot of the time I wish I were a part of it. But I’m very proud of the work that I’ve done, and I value my independence as an artist intensely, so I understand that I may have to give up a spot on the A-team to have those things. Ultimately, I really do think of my ability to write and communicate as a gift, a blessing, and I am profoundly grateful for that, and I know how rare and special it is for me to have the forum to share my work with people who love it.

Kyle McAuley writes:
I have a question about your writing process. Obviously there’s a ton of historical background information, but vocally did you write the part of Leo Frank specifically for Brent Carver’s voice? The other day my iTunes was on shuffle and “Dressing Them Up” (from Kiss of the Spider Woman) came on just after “How Can I Call this Home?” I know that Harold Prince worked with him in Spider Woman and it dawned on me that he might have had Brent Carver in mind for the part from the beginning. Just a fanciful notion that popped into my head. A similar question about The Last Five Years: Did you write the part of Jamie with Norbert Leo Butz in mind?
JRB responds:
Sort of no, and sort of yes. Hal did want Brent to play Leo almost from the very beginning of the process, but I thought he was too old and too goyishe for the part, so I didn’t write it with him in mind. It was only after two readings with other actors in the leading role that Hal insisted we at least let Brent audition, and when he did, it was astonishing. I’ve never seen my work transformed so much by an actor as when Brent did “Come Up To My Office” and “All The Wasted Time” in that audition. After that, I adjusted a couple of things to fit Brent’s voice better, and “This Is Not Over Yet” was definitely written with the knowledge that a singer as powerful as Brent was going to do it. With “The Last Five Years,” I wouldn’t say I wrote it with Norbert in mind, but I had been a huge fan of his for a number of years, and there really is a very small population of actors in New York who are truly capable of holding a stage and creating a character and singing their asses off, and Norbert is right at the head of that population. There are chunks of the score that are higher than I can sing because I knew Norbert had those notes. We did audition a lot of people for the Chicago production, but before we even sat down Norbert was the front-runner, and while a lot of wonderful performers came in, no one really understood the material like Norbert did. Once he was cast, there were still three numbers to be written, so I definitely had his instrument in my head at that point. But the weirder thing is that Norbert is a great mimic, and he ended up basing a lot of his vocal performance on my demos, which I took as a huge compliment. Now people think I sound like him on the “Last Five Years” songs, but I swear, it’s the other way around!
Okay, that’s it for this round, but keep those questions comin’!
J.

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