Usually, the sleepy little berg of Santa Rosa belongs to Charlie Brown, the melon-headed lad created by Santa Rosa’s favorite son, Charles M. Schulz.
Last Saturday night, Santa Rosa was indeed Brown’s town — Jason Robert Brown’s town.
The Broadway composer (a Tony Award-winner for Parade) was in concert for one night only to support a new theater company, the Roustabout, that has been offering training courses up to now and is preparing to take the next step and begin offering professional theater in Sonoma County.
Sort of Broadway’s answer to Billy Joel, Elton John and Barry Manilow rolled into one with sprinklings of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, Brown is one of those three-named composers — Michael John LaChiusa, Ricky Ian Gordon — who have been touted as the future of Broadway for years now.
With only Parade (an under-appreciated work) and Urban Cowboy to represent his Broadway work, Brown might not seem to be a show tune savior. But his off-Broadway work — Songs for a New World, The Last Five Years — shows enormous potential and is being performed all around the country (San Francisco’s Ray of Light Theater will likely be doing Songs later this season, according to artistic director Eli Newsom, who has at the Brown concert).
During the two-act concert, which included a hearty helping of tunes from Brown’s excellent solo album, “Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes,” and special guest Amy Ryder, offered two sneak peeks at Brown’s current works in progress.
His Act 1 closer, “Vegas,” is from Honeymoon in Vegas, a musical adaptation of the movie of the same name, and it is a winner. In full-on Frank Sinatra-Bobby Darin lounge-lizard mode, Brown rhymes “molar” with “roller” and sings “V-E-G-A-S, that spells love.” If the rest of the musical is anywhere near as spirited, it’ll be a winner.
That show likely won’t go into serious creative mode until next year. More pressing is 13, which begins rehearsals in a few days in Los Angeles (and begins previews in December and opens in January) at the Mark Taper Forum. It’s the story of Evan, a 13-year-old Manhattan boy whose parents divocrceand he ends up in Indiana with his mom just in time for his bar mitzvah. Brown performed a song about “being a geek” and why that fate is worse than death, and it demonstrates Brown’s trademark wit and intelligence.
Here are some sample lyrics from the song:
When you’re cool, you’ve always got a crowd.
You can break the rules and you’re allowed.
You can sway the gang in any direction?
It’s a high-speed connection
When you’re cool.
If you’re cool, you know you’ve got a shot,
But oh! If you’re not
It’s a waste, It’s a drag,
It’s ‘suck’ in a bag,
It’s the loneliest thing in the world.
Brown’s album “Someone Else’s Clothes” is worthy of buying in its entirety, but if you want to sample a few songs, try the song he wrote as a toast at his brother’s wedding, “Nothing in Common,” the hit-worthy “Someone to Fall Back On” and the extraordinary “Coming Together,” Brown’s response to the events of Sept. 11.
From Parade, you should hear the opening number, “The Old Red Hills of Home,” and from Songs for a New World, Brown’s biggest hit, “Stars and the Moon.”
To check in with Jason Robert Brown, read his entertaining blog.