Posted on September 16, 2019 at 10:48 pm

In the summer of 1984, I signed up to be in the Rock Band program at French Woods. Every other kid in Rock Band that summer was a guitarist or a drummer; no one ever knew what to do with a keyboard player. (And in those pre-DX7 days, a keyboard was generally an unmiked upright piano off to the side of the rehearsal room.) The repertoire, therefore, leaned heavily towards the kind of things teenage guitar players and drummers like – loud, mid-tempo, no more than four chords. I had been hoping for the Beatles, maybe Queen, or at worst perhaps Styx. The rest of my band, however, had neither the taste nor the aptitude for such esoteric “art rock,” and that is how I ended up playing and singing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” a song with which I was not previously acquainted and for which I had a marked lack of enthusiasm.

Our single performance of that song, on a wiltingly hot afternoon in front of a listless audience that included my patient and bemused parents, represents the single interaction I have had with the music of the brothers Young. Until last week.

When Jenn and I started emailing to come up with the songs she would sing at the residency, the very first song she suggested was “You Shook Me All Night Long,” with the parenthetical note “(I can crush this one).” While I had PTSD from my previous AC/DC experience, I ultimately conceded that Jenn would indeed crush it, and the intervening thirty-five years have perhaps loosened me up enough to enjoy playing something as unapologetically stupid as that song. And so we did.

If Broadway ever had an official ambassador, the best possible candidate would be Jenn Colella, who has been one of my closest friends and favorite humans since we met in the midst of the madness known as Urban Cowboy. Not just prodigiously talented as a singer and actor, Jenn is also known as an avatar of kindness and positivity, traits she has put to use in 1100 performances of Come From Away. For this show, Jenn did a richly felt “If I Didn’t Believe In You,” a powerhouse version of George Michael’s “One More Try”, and – because of my whimsical and unreasonable request that after sixteen years of singing the song, Jenn would now have to do it without any sound check or rehearsal – a definitive, seat-of-her-chaps performance of her showstopping number from Urban Cowboy, “Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak.”

Ten years ago, I met Chilina Kennedy for the first time when she joined me for a concert in Toronto. I absolutely loved working with her, and while we haven’t been able to find the opportunity to make music together in the years since, I was thrilled that she could come join us on her day off from the national tour of The Band’s Visit. Her luminous rendition of “Omar Sharif” from that show was a moment of transcendent stillness, and a wonderful way finally to present the work of my amazing colleague David Yazbek.

And while I’m sure that the only reason Chilina came to town was to sing with me, it happened that Jenn and Chilina, who have been known to spend time together, joined forces for a fantastic duet of “I’d Give It All For You.”

Finally, I’m not going to say it was in response to playing AC/DC, but I did sing a Barry Manilow song to start the show, and we crushed it.

Daybreak (Barry Manilow/Adrienne Anderson, 1976)
Caravan of Angels from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
JENN: And I Will Follow from Songs of Jason Robert Brown (2003)
JENN: If I Didn’t Believe In You from The Last Five Years (2002)
Success from The Connector (2019)
The Hardest Hill from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
CHILINA: Cassandra from The Connector (2019)
CHILINA: Omar Sharif from The Band’s Visit (David Yazbek, 2017)
JENN & CHILINA: I’d Give It All For You from Songs for a New World (1995)
JENN: One More Try (George Michael, 1987)
JENN: Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak from Urban Cowboy (2003)
Wait ‘Til You See What’s Next from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
JENN: You Shook Me All Night Long (Messrs. Young, Young & Johnson, 1980)
Melinda from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
All Things In Time from How We React and How We Recover (2018)

JRB: piano, vocals, tambourine
Jenn Colella: guest vocalist
Chilina Kennedy: guest vocalist
Todd Reynolds: violin
Justin Rothberg: guitar
Gary Sieger: guitar
Randy Landau: bass
Brian Dunne: drums

Credits:

Photos, as always, by Erika Kapin