Posted on January 5, 2011 at 11:09 am
A theater in the UK is doing a production of The Last Five Years, and they asked if I would be willing to do an e-mail interview for publicity. This happens a lot, and since the questions are often very similar, I thought I’d post my responses here and maybe save everyone a little time in the future!
1) Jason Robert Brown, why did you first decide to become a composer, particularly for Musical Theatre works?
That was a decision I made long before I knew I was making decisions. I loved musicals when I was a kid, particularly West Side Story and Pippin; I spent a lot of time singing along with the LP’s and driving my family crazy. Being a songwriter was never really a “decision,” it was just something I did – I guess at some point I decided to do it for a living, but by then I’d been writing for so long that it hardly seemed like a strange choice. I probably wrote my first song when I was seven or eight years old. (For the record, I don’t think I wrote my first good song until I was in my twenties, but I didn’t really know the difference or I probably wouldn’t have kept writing.)
2) Out of all the songs you’ve written, do you have a favourite? If so, why is that your favourite?
Today’s favorite is a song you haven’t heard called “One More Thing Than I Can Handle.” Tomorrow it will be something different. I never really know what pushes one song to the front of my head versus some other one.
3) The Last Five Years is a wonderful piece; what do you think has made it so popular around the world?
I think the primary reason for the success of The Last Five Years is its intimacy – sharing an evening with only two actors makes everyone involved, audience included, feel very connected. There is an emotional current that runs through the theater when the show is done right.
4) Is there enough new Musical Theatre writing? What advice would you give to aspiring composers?
Certainly there’s enough writing. There’s very little good Musical Theatre writing, which is the logical outgrowth of there being so many very bad musicals that get produced and make lots of money. The only advice I ever give is to keep writing, and if you don’t think what you’re writing is good enough, then throw it out and do it again until you think it is. Too many writers settle for their first drafts.
5) If you were involved in the casting process for The Last Five Years, what would you look for in your Jamie and Cathy?
For Jamie, I’m looking for someone very confident, and he needs to project intelligence – he’s a writer, after all, and not a footie player. (And given the population of musical theatre actors, it sort of needs to be said that he has to look excited about being in love with a woman.) My ideal Cathy has to have a very deep emotional life – Cathy actually holds in as much as she says, and that reserve is very important to making the character come to life. But first and foremost, they both have to be insightful and intuitive musicians who can comfortably navigate what may be the two most grueling vocal parts in contemporary musical theatre.
6) The Last Five Years has a variety of musical styles; do you ever compose for genres other than Musical Theatre?
Sure, all the time. I have an album called Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes that I made with my band, The Caucasian Rhythm Kings, and we have another album coming out this summer (I hope). I’ll be conducting the National Symphony in Washington DC in March when they perform my orchestral suite “The Trumpet of the Swan.” I’ve written ballets, string quartets, piano sonatas, choral works, art songs, you name it. But what I love most about Musical Theatre is that I can fit a wide variety of styles and forms into any given piece, as long as the characters and situations demand it.
7) Are you writing any new shows at the moment? Can you tell us a little bit about them?
On my immediate agenda are three shows: The Bridges of Madison County, an adaptation of Robert James Waller’s novel, which I’m writing with Marsha Norman; The Connector, a chamber musical which will be directed by Daisy Prince, opening in 2012 in Chicago; and Honeymoon In Vegas, a musical comedy based on Andrew Bergman’s film, which has been optioned for a Broadway production in 2012 (fingers crossed).
8) What is your favourite musical of all-time?
I always answer West Side Story, which really does have the best score in the world, but I have very strong emotional connections to Merrily We Roll Along, a show which I hope to direct one day.