Jason Robert Brown said a tweet from a fan inspired the Sept. 12 benefit concert of his two-character musical The Last Five Years.
The composer, lyricist and performer has worked independently with Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr in Hamilton in Chicago) and Cynthia Erivo, a Tony Award winner for The Color Purple on Broadway. About a year ago, “Somebody tweeted, ‘Oh my god, you have to do The Last Five Years with Cynthia and Joshua,” Brown, 46, recalled in an interview.
“And I tweeted back, ‘I’m in, let’s do it, Ha Ha Ha.’ And Joshua wrote, ‘I’m in,’ and Cynthia wrote, ‘I’m in.’’’
In fact, Brown was able to recruit the two to join him at Town Hall, the proceeds of which will benefit a cause he cherishes. It will net about $200,000 for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which is named after the late gun control advocates Sarah and James Brady. (James Brady was disabled in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. When Mr. Brady died two years ago, the medical examiner ruled it a homicide resulting from the gunshot wound.)
Brown, who has two daughters with his wife, composer Georgia Stitt, said one can’t be a parent and not have a strong position on gun violence, which claims many more lives per capita in the United States than in other Western nations. In 2013, gun deaths in the U.S., including suicide and accidents, totaled 33,636, about the same as motor vehicle deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The situation was already insane from Columbine on,” Brown said, referring to the 1999 shooting in Colorado that killed 13. “Everything had already gone well past any sense of logic. But what happened at Sandy Hook [when 26 were killed at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012] was so intensely emotionally sad and difficult and infuriating that it very much ramped up my desire to have some kind of political responsibility for the issue.”
Days after the shooting in June at an Orlando nightclub, killing 49, Brown released a video of him performing a new composition, A Song About Your Gun, in which a fed-up parent addresses a gun control foe. Brown said: “The way that I have heard the argument posited from the other side is that I should have the right to have whatever firearms I want and these firearms are important to me. And I become so enraged by the concept that this mechanical object has any value greater than the human lives that it endangers.”
Brown said The Last Five Years, which debuted in 2001 and is about artists in their twenties struggling with identify, doesn’t speak about gun violence in any way. It’s the first performance of the show he’s aware of in which black actors play the two roles – a Jewish novelist named Jamie and his non-Jewish wife, Cathy. “I guess it’s significant if you want it to be,” he said. “I just wanted to see these two incredible performers bring these roles to life.”