Sixteen years ago I answered an early-morning phone call one Saturday from Lisa Paden Gaines.
Lisa, an esteemed Birmingham performer and a friend through the years, doesn’t call often, maybe every 16 years or so.
But she had been at Red Mountain Theatre Company the night before, and she didn’t see me. “I hope you’re going tonight,” she said, the best that I can recall. “This guy is fantastic, and you can’t miss it. You’ve got to see him.”
Lisa knows her stuff, so I rather begrudgingly made plans to see Jason Robert Brown that night.
I say begrudgingly because I really just didn’t know that much about him. He had won the Tony Award for his score of “Parade” in 1999, and … well … hmmm … That’s about all that I knew.
That night – still one of my top live concert experiences – I was introduced to “Songs for a New World” and “The Last Five Years,” two beautiful JRB musicals that yes, I should have already known, as well as funny, sad and smart songs from his recently released solo debut album, “Someone Else’s Clothes.”
I was also introduced to a fantastic performer, as skilled behind the microphone as he was at the keyboard.
“It was just one highlight after another,” I wrote in my review for The Birmingham News. I also noted the song “She Cries” and “an incredible bout between Brown and his piano.” I still vividly remember that moment in the show, JRB attacking the keys and me sitting stunned that someone could play the piano like that. Definitely a night to remember.
Since that night in 2006, JRB has returned to Red Mountain several times, each time having added to the shows that have made him one of the preeminent theater composers of our generation — “13,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” (another Tony win) “Honeymoon in Vegas” and, most recently, “Mr. Saturday Night.” (another Tony nomination). He also has two other solo albums, 2018’s “How We React and How We Recover” and 2020’s “Coming from Inside the House (A Virtual SubCulture Concert).”
Now, he’s back for a weekend of concerts at Red Mountain Theatre with the theater’s youth ensembles and other special guests, and you bet I’ll be there. This time, though, I know his work and could probably sing along (though I’ll spare him and myself that embarrassment). I’m an unabashed fan, and I’m so grateful for that push I was given to go see him in 2006.
I’ll go ahead and review JRB this time around, courtesy of that old friend 16 years ago: “This guy is fantastic, and you can’t miss it. You’ve got to see him.”
Consider yourself called by Lisa Paden Gaines.
Jason Robert Brown, in concert at Red Mountain Theatre, Oct. 7-8. Buy tickets here.