PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jason Robert Brown, Now Directing His Beloved Musical The Last Five Years

By Brandon Voss
07 Mar 2013

Betsy Wolfe
It's no secret that the musical's road from Chicago to Off-Broadway between 2001 and 2002 was a rocky one. It was originally announced for and then pulled from Lincoln Center Theater's schedule amidst much mystery, rumors regarding your ex-wife's alleged objections to the material, and vague statements made by lawyers and other representatives. Is there anything you'd like to say about the matter that you couldn't say back then, or is there any misinformation that you'd like to clear up?
JRB: Nothing especially relevant. Although some have said that the show changed so much between Chicago and New York, and actually, compared to most musicals, the show barely changed at all. Look at what Sweet Smell of Success did between Chicago and New York that same year: They changed casts, threw out the finale, and wrote five different songs. I changed one song and maybe eight lines of lyric. I just saw it on my computer the other day, and the entire list of changes is less than a page. I don't think that's so bad. The circumstances under which I made those changes were a little batty, but it's fine. The show survived it, and I'm as proud of the show as I would've been had I not changed a note.

You mentioned the downside of opening at the Minetta Lane. Do you wish the show had gone to Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse as originally intended?
JRB: I don't spend any of my time — anymore — doing that sort of wishful thinking. That's why I don't live in New York. I could spend all my time wondering, "What if…?," but the fact of the matter is that I had an extraordinary production with two dynamos who were about to become massive stars, which I think is the same situation I'm in now with Adam and Betsy. They're right on the verge of amazing careers.

Did you audition a lot of actors for this revival?
JRB: Oh, yeah.

What was it about Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe that appealed to you?
JRB: They selected themselves. It wasn't even hard. When Betsy left after her first audition, I said, "We're done. That's it." Betsy, being a typical neurotic actress, wanted to come back in, felt that she didn't get this one thing, and I was like, "No, we're good. It's done." It was the same with Adam. He walked in, he opened that mouth, he had that voice, and he looks like he looks. He so embodied what this character is.

You'd never worked with them before?
JRB: I hadn't. That's the other thing about not living in New York: I didn't even know who they were. If I showed you the list of people who auditioned, you'd say, "Oh, my God, these are the greatest young actors in New York." I didn't know who any of them were. I got to experience them all freshly.

I thought you might've caught Betsy in Sherie Rene Scott's Everyday Rapture.
JRB: No, by the time I came back in town, it was closed. But I did just get to see Betsy in Drood.

Have you seen any other shows since you've been in town?
JRB: I saw Golden Boy when I first got here, and I was thrilled I got the chance to see that, because it was just sensational. Other than that, I haven't had a whole lot of nights free to go see things.


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