Posted on September 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Stephen Holden’s review is here.

Music Review
Striving for New Standards, Just the Way They Are
Jason Robert Brown at 54 Below
The New York Times, September 13, 2012

[Photo by Brian Harkin for the New York Times]

If you pay little attention to the insular world of musical theater, you might not know that the 42-year-old singer, composer and playwright Jason Robert Brown is the Billy Joel of his generation. The heartfelt outpourings of this brainy, driven, hypersensitive, self-conscious introvert deserve to be standards, but still aren’t.

“Stars and the Moon,” from his 1995 show, Songs for a New World, has become something of a cabaret staple but hasn’t quite reached the golden circle. His 2001 boutique musical, The Last Five Years, a two-character story of a failed marriage, has become a regional-theater staple. A revival opens at the Second Stage Theater in March.

With the singer Shoshana Bean, Mr. Brown performed more possible standards at 54 Below on Wednesday evening and offered previews of songs from works in progress: musical-theater adaptations of the films Honeymoon in Vegas (to star Tony Danza) and The Bridges of Madison County (written with Marsha Norman).

After all these years, the expectations for Mr. Brown’s future remain as high as ever. He has matured and expanded his stylistic reach, and his newer songs are as good or better than his older ones.

Wednesday’s show opened with another would-be classic love song, “It All Fades Away,” a waltz, which Mr. Brown, at the piano, sang in a deep, resonant voice, accompanied by Gary Sieger on electric guitar, Randy Landau on bass and Matt Hinkley on mandolin. It was followed by another waltz, “And I Will Follow,” sung to the similar accompaniment by Ms. Bean, a singer with a blues side.

Two Madison County songs, “Another Life” and “Wondering,” were especially impressive. These hers-and-his interior monologues manage the tricky feat of being both minutely psychological and utterly comprehensible. Unlike many musical-theater love songs nowadays, they don’t flatten emotions into declamatory slogans.

Mr. Brown doesn’t shy away from romantic hyperbole and fairy-tale images, but even his most extravagant effusions have the ring of truth. The recent “Caravan of Angels” was a deeply felt celebration of family and friends. The final number, “Someone to Fall Back On,” is a classic vow of commitment and an answer to “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” just waiting for its moment:

I am no prince,

I am no saint,

I am not anyone’s wildest dream,

But I can stand behind

And be someone to fall back on.

Jason Robert Brown performs through Saturday at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan; (646) 476-3551,