Jason Robert Brown is an American musical theatre composer and lyricist from Ossining, New York. His career began with the unorthodox Songs for a New World, whose original off-Broadway production ran for 28 performances at the WPA Theater in New York City in 1995. The show sits on the boundary between musical and song cycle: it is a series of largely disjoint songs with (unlike a musical) no plot or characters that continue from song to song, but the songs and production themselves are highly theatrical and character-driven.
He now has 6 major works under his belt, including Songs for a New World. His sophomore effort was the Tony award winning Parade, a musical about the 1913 murder of Mary Phagan and Leo Frank's subsequent lynching, which ran on Broadway from December 17, 1998 to February 28, 1999.
Brown's third work, The Last Five Years, is a powerful two-person song-cycle about a failing relationship, which is unique in that the story is told in two directions at once: Jamie, the husband, tells the story from his perspective chronologically, from the beginning to the end, whereas Cathy, the wife, tells her own perspective, beginning at the end and working her way back. The two characters exist in the same moment only once, at their wedding, which occurs exactly in the middle of the play.
He contributed five original songs to the country cover-heavy musical version of Urban Cowboy, which ran on Broadway from March 27, 2003 to May 18, 2003 and was a Tony nominee.
In 2005 Brown released a solo album, Wearing Someone Else's Clothes, consisting of previously unreleased tracks, cut songs, unfinished melodies, and other original compositions. The composer plays and sings his own pieces in this release. Also in 2005 came his Chanukah Suite, an 8-minute choral fanfare in three parts, drawing upon the influence of Leonard Bernstein and adding unorthodox elements like rock-and-roll rhythms.
Most recently, he has gone back to the stage with 13, a new musical which premiered on Jan. 7, 2007, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
Brown's music sensibility fuses pop-rock stylings with theatrical lyrics. An accomplished pianist, Brown has often served as music director, conductor, and pianist for his own productions.
Brown has many trademarks in his composing style. His piano music is often extremely rhythmically challenging; his sheet music is released in a mostly unmodified format, posing many challenges to anyone who tries to play it. His songs are by no means easy to sing, either, with his choral music including many complex and unconventional harmonies and his songs (for men, in particular) covering a very wide vocal range. Most of his songs are written in AABA' format, the exceptions coming mostly in his show Parade. Perhaps most characteristic are his love duets; all three (I'd Give it All for You from Songs, The Next 10 Minutes from L5Y, and All the Wasted Time from Parade) are written in a very distinct format: male-female-both, compound time with a hemiola in the duet section, and two of the three end with the couple singing the same pitch.