Alan Campbell Presents Beyond Broadway, a new performance series sponsored by Broadway Series South, will premiere Dec. 5 and 6 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC, with a special performance by Raleigh native and rising Broadway star Lauren Kennedy and award-winning Tarrytown, NY native and New York City songwriter Jason Robert Brown. (Brown won a 1999 Tony Award® for Best Original Score of a Musical for Parade, which also won the Drama Desk and New York Drama Critic's Circle awards for Best New Musical).
Kennedy and Brown began collaborating while she was starring in the 2001 Skokie, Illinois premiere of his show The Last Five Years; and their collaboration has continued through her first solo album, Songs of Jason Robert Brown (PS Classics), released earlier last March, and in this concert.
"Is it premature for composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown, after only three recorded shows, to be the subject of a songs-of collection?" asks David Horiuchi of Amazon.com. "Not at all when you consider that a strong singer, some new material, and a fresh look at old material make Lauren Kennedy's solo debut a significant addition to Brown's catalog. Kennedy created the role of Catherine in The Last Five Years (a conflict prevented her from continuing it in New York), so three of those songs are included here, plus three from Songs for a New World, and one from Parade.... Kennedy is a joy to listen to, singing with beauty, power, and heart, and Brown leads the band from the piano (as one would expect), and even holds up the vocal end of the stirring duet 'I'd Give It All for You.'"
Celebrated British director Trevor Nunn (Cats, Les Misérables, and Sunset Boulevard) saluted Lauren Kennedy as a "thrilling and rare talent," and the show-business Bible Variety praised Jason Robert Brown as an "exciting, innovative and altogether inspiring" composer and lyricist. Kennedy and Brown's Raleigh performance will feature hit songs from three of Brown's four stage shows — Songs for a New World (1996), Parade (1998-99), and The Last Five Years (2001). (Urban Cowboy  is Brown's fourth show, and he earned another Tony nomination for it.)
Brown and some of New York's best musicians will accompany Kennedy as she switches styles from show tunes to swing numbers, from rock-and-roll songs to country tunes, from gospel numbers to art songs. Kennedy's Raleigh repertoire will include numerous selections from the Songs of Jason Robert Brown.
Lauren Kennedy told Playbill On-Line: "I think [Jason Robert Brown's] music [is] so interesting, the way he draws from folk and pop influences as well as theatre. I've always wanted to do an album of theatre music, but I always wanted to do a contemporary pop album as well."
Brown's music "really runs the gamut of styles," Kennedy added. She said she and Brown tried not to repeat songs note for note from their cast albums. They were not afraid to "tweak" a lyric when necessary.
In praising actress-singer Lauren Kennedy's first solo album, Songs of Jason Robert Brown, which he labeled "dazzling," David Hurst of Show Business Weekly wrote: "Kennedy... is a natural for [Jason Robert] Brown's songs. She has a girl-next-door quality in her clear, bright soprano that allows her to be as playful and comic as she is angst-ridden or heartbreaking. Her musical instincts, phrasing choices and accuracy of pitch are near perfect as she essays a collection of Brown's work that covers pop, rock and — the music he was born to compose — musical theater. There are selections from all three of his show, as well as four premiere recordings: 'And I Will Follow,' a perfect opener with melodic harmonies reminiscent of Parade's stunning score; 'Letting You Go,' a simple and honest lyric that was a precursor to The Last Five Years; 'Dreaming Wide Awake,' a gorgeous, haunting melody about hope in the face of adversity; and 'If I Told You Now,' a song about 'doubt' that Kennedy sings with a tender awareness that's devastating."
Producer Alan Campbell says, "My association with Raleigh, comes through my wife, Lauren Kennedy. She is a Raleigh native, born and raised on Raleigh theater. Some 22 productions at the [North Carolina Theatre] alone."
He adds, "I am a performer myself with Broadway, network TV, and film to my credit. Lauren and I met in Sunset Boulevard."
On Broadway, Lauren Kennedy played Fantine in Les Misérables. She played Mary on Broadway and Betty Schaefer in the National Tour of Sunset Boulevard, and she also portrayed Daisy Hilton in Side Show on Broadway.
"We have a small home down in Raleigh," says Alan Campbell, "and after attending the opening of the BTI [Center for the Performing Arts] decided we would love to share Raleigh with our friends and favorite performers. Thus, the idea [for Alan Campbell Presents Beyond Broadway] was born."
He adds, "I came through Raleigh in 2002 with [the National Tour of] Contact and pitched the idea of series to the powers at the BTI. They were receptive of the idea of a series with a very eclectic mix of talents with Broadway as a common thread. With more emphasis on an intimate/personal look at the performers. Not cabaret but a smaller stage look at big stage people."
Campbell says future offerings of the Alan Campbell Presents Beyond Broadway performance series will include the Red Clay Ramblers (April 2 and 3) and the John Pizzarelli Trio (April 30 and May 1).
Alan Campbell Presents Beyond Broadway presents Lauren Kennedy and Jason Robert Brown Friday-Saturday, Dec. 5-6, at 8 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $34-$39 ($20 students). Ticketmaster: 919/834-4000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/artist/889648/. Lauren Kennedy: http://www.laurenkennedy.com/. Jason Robert Brown: http://www.geocities.com/jason_robert_brown/. PS Classics: http://psclassics.com/.