Posted on March 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I headed out on the Acela yesterday, leaving my beloved Bridges of Madison County (which can run perfectly well without me being anywhere near it) so I could spend a week in the Washington DC area teaching and working with young actors and musicians.

The main event is Saturday and Sunday’s concerts of Songs for a New World featuring the YAA orchestra, fifty musicians strong, as well as a host of local singers, both student and professional.  I get to conduct, play piano, maybe sing a little, but mostly revel in the sound these amazing young musicians make when they encounter my music.  It’s going to be a thrilling set of performances, and I’ll tell you more about them later this week.

But first, I spent last night with the members of Act Two @ Levine, a pre-professional musical theater training program in Bethesda.  I had a really wonderful time with these dedicated and committed performers, and I was honored to be invited.

Here’s Lauren Selman’s article in DC Metro TheaterArts about last night:

Students of Act Two @ Levine Music Pre-Professional Program performed the Tony Award-winning musical Parade for the show’s composer and lyricist, Jason Robert Brown. Act Two’s Parade was initially performed in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage and was remounted for Mr. Brown at Georgetown Preparatory School.

“Levine is a process-focused music school and bringing in Jason Robert Brown to work with and critique the students has become part of the pre-professional experience ,” said Director Kevin Kuchar. “We chose to close this master class to the public in order to enhance the experience and curriculum value and we are fortunate to expose our students to the vantage point of visiting artists.”

In this master class, students first performed the entire musical as is was originally produced in January. Following the performance, Jason Robert Brown gave advice to the Pre-Professional company, including important notes on the background of the original production and ways to enhance their theatrical training and education.

Jason Robert Brown speaks to the cast of 'Parade.' Photo by Scott Selman.

Jason Robert Brown speaks to the cast of ‘Parade.’ Photo by Scott Selman.

“Even if you’re a kid who likes this and doesn’t think you’re going to do it, there’s still something to knowing that there are people who follow this particular, peculiar passion and that getting it right matters,” said Jason Robert Brown. “I think learning about the kind of commitment that’s required to do this well is always a valuable lesson and with kids who are already clearly this motivated, and I think it encourages and strengthens them and empowers them.”

In reference to watching high school students perform his work, Mr. Brown noted, “It’s a deeply weird experience for me but they did a beautiful job with it. [Parade] was meant for grown ups and it’s very challenging material. So the fact that they rose to the challenge as beautifully as they did is very special.”

Jason Robert Brown has been working with young artists to hone in on their craft and explore musical theatre beyond their everyday classes. His interest in understanding the material through the student’s point-of-view is what ultimately draws Mr. Brown to work with students.

“I learn a lot from the students from what they see in the material. I see it through their eyes which is an interesting thing that happens. I come to share with them,” he said.

The ability to perform a musical for a member of its creative team does not typically occur, but the Pre-Professional program boasts a long list of opportunities for its company year-round. Act Two @ Levine Music has provided its students with opportunities to work with Broadway veteran, Sutton Foster, The Book of Mormon Associate Conductor, Adam Ben-David, and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM), Baldwin Wallace University, and University of Michigan representatives.

“It’s my second year in the program and we get to work so hard on the process of making a show and everybody gets a shining moment,” said Act Two Senior Audrey Rinehart. “It was amazing to work with Jason Robert Brown. He made me think about line interpretation I wouldn’t have thought for myself and he allowed me to better understand [Lucille Frank’s] character and text within her songs.”

Audrey Rinehart (Lucille Frank) and Eitan Mazia (Leo Frank). Photo by Scott Selman.

Act Two @ Levine Music’s Pre-Professional Programis designed to provide high school students with exceptional musical theatre training opportunities. Students actively participate in the creation process and build their skills in auditioning, acting, voice, movement, and production.

Then I have a concert Monday night as a benefit for Red Branch Theatre Company.  So all you DC Brownies, I hope to see you this weekend!