November 22, 2007

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Broadway composer and actress hit Granite State
The many connections to Jason Robert Brown and Lauren Kennedy
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Suzanne Delle was close to gushing while talking about Lauren Kennedy coming to New Hampshire. Through connections from a former Yellow Taxi Productions board member, Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown is bringing his band, The Caucasian Rhythm Kings, to Derry for a benefit concert for the professional Nashua theater company.

Brown composed Parade, The Last Five Years, Songs for a New World and 13. Kennedy originated the role of Cathy in the two-role The Last Five Years in Chicago. She took a London job, which prevented her from playing Cathy when The Last Five Years moved to New York. On Broadway she’s appeared in Spamalot, Les Misérables (as Fantine), Sunset Boulevard and Side Show. Her first solo album is Lauren Kennedy: Songs of Jason Robert Brown. Ben Brantley from the New York Times wrote, “Lauren Kennedy has a pretty voice and a lean and spiky physical allure that recalls the young Madeline Kahn’s.”

Where am I going with this? Well, Brown told Delle, YTP’s founding artistic director, that he would bring a female vocalist for the concert. Delle hoped, but didn’t really think possible, that he’d bring Kennedy. But Kennedy will, in fact, be gracing the stage at the Stockbridge Theater at Pinkerton Academy, Sunday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m.

Delle saw the band perform with Kennedy in New York.

“She was just amazing,” Delle said. She’s also “drop-dead gorgeous.” It was a fun show, and Delle wanted to bring the band to New Hampshire. Brown put out the word he was looking for venues about a year and a half ago, but it took until now for their schedules to match, Delle said.

The Last Five Years was cited as one of Time Magazine’s 10 Best of 2001. Peterborough Players included the show in their 2007 season. YTP produced The Last Five Years in 2002 and won two New Hampshire Theatre Awards for it. Yolanda Farina played Cathy for YTP and Brown has agreed to have her sing “The Stars and the Moon” from Songs for a New World at Stockbridge. Brown won a 1999 Tony for his score to Parade, a musical written with Alfred Uhry. (More local connections: Nashua’s StageCoach Productions staged Parade in October.) 13 opens on Broadway in the spring of 2008.

The concert, as well as a one-man holiday comedy performed by an Equity actor in December (see the Hippo Holiday Guide), is a fundraiser for YTP’s next season.

“We have a huge amount of stuff planned,” Delle said. The end-of-year intake is critical and “lets us know how we can proceed with 2008,” she said. Last year’s holiday fundraiser show, The Lumpkin Sisters, did well enough that YTP could hire a Washington, D.C., actor for The American Plan and use more complicated set elements.

YTP is currently seeking a permanent venue. Delle said she couldn’t offer much concrete news on that front yet, but said having one would mean more opportunity for fundraisers like the Brown concert. Without a home, YTP spends a lot of time finding venues for events.

By the way, if anyone has a very large van to lend, playwright and YTP board member Lowell Williams could use it. He’s planning to drive the band and their instruments up from New York. YTP thinks that will be less challenging than putting a stand-up bass on an airplane.


He writes the songs she sings
What: The Caucasian Rhythm Kings, composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown’s band, plus Broadway actress and singer Lauren Kennedy.
Where: The Stockbridge Theater at Pinkerton Academy, 5 Pinkerton Drive in Derry.
Why: To raise money for Yellow Taxi Productions’ 2008 season (www.yellowtaxiproductions.org).
Tickets: $25 for balcony, $45 for orchestra, $65 for Dress Circle. Dress Circle includes a private reception with the band after the concert. Buy them at www.theatermania.com or call 791-4558.