Posted on October 17, 2006 at 6:56 am

Many shades of Brown all delight
Oct. 17, 2006. 06:56 AM

The phrase “triple threat” has become so overused in show-business circles that it’s great to encounter someone who truly deserves it.

Jason Robert Brown rocked the walls of the Glenn Gould Studio last night with a performance so filled with energy, guts and emotion that to say the near-capacity audience was blown away would be an understatement.

Brown is the composer-lyricist of such first-rate musicals as The Last Five Years and Parade, but he’s also a pianist of rare skill and a vocalist who possesses a uniquely persuasive way with a song. Add stage patter that is free of all tiresome shtick and you have an incredibly winning combination.

Watching Brown at the keyboard is an astonishing experience. He’s a tall, lean, angular guy with a saturnine look on his face that manages to convey a wide variety of expressions.

Sometimes, he’s Ichabod Crane, all elbows and wrists as he flails away passionately at the keyboard. Or he’s the Big Bad Wolf, grinning sardonically at his romantic prey. But most often, he has a haunted Russian look about him, letting a Chekhovian melancholy play about his features as he sings of loves gone wrong and lives that can’t be mended.

But he can also score points with his incisive wit, as when one lover mocks him: “You said I didn’t have to be/ The king of idiosyncrasy.” Or listen to his description of courtship in Las Vegas: “Dress her up to her molars/Show her you roll with the highest rollers.”

He can toss off a phrase that contains a lifetime of regret (“A summer you can’t repeat”) or sum up two opposing outlooks in a single line (“Some people freeze out of fear that they’ll fail, but I keep rolling on.”).

In short, the man is a brilliant songwriter, and the rhythmic invention and non-stop intensity he brings to his piano accompaniment makes his material sound even richer.

Brown alone could carry an evening, but he’s smart enough not to try. First off, he brought along two killer sidemen in “The Caucasian Rhythm Kings”: Randy Landau (bass) and Gary Sieger (guitar). And then he had two of our best musical theatre talents, Adam Brazier and Julie Martell, drop in to sing a few numbers.

Brazier’s full-throated rendition of “The Old Red Hills of Home” produced goose bumps and was the evening’s vocal highlight. And Martell’s moving duet with Brown on “I’d Give it All For You” had a delicacy that was breathtaking.

Brown ended the evening with a superb trio of songs. “I’m in Bizness” allowed him, Landau and Sieger to shine as musicians, “Moving too Fast” gave him a virtuoso finale and “Someone to Fall Back On” was the gentlest of encores.

Producers Michael Rubinoff and Mark Selby are to be commended for bringing Brown to Toronto. Let’s hope it’s just the first of many such concerts involving the best of the musical theatre world.

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