Nowhere Near Normal - Brian Justin Crum at Joe's Pub

While Hillary and I have had some incredible theatrical experiences over the past two years, some of our very favorite nights have been spent in New York's intimate concert venues, listening to actors we admire take a break from the show they perform eight times a week and sing a different and more personal repertoire of music. Our love of Next to Normal has prompted several of these visits to Joe's Pub; in the past, we've been fortunate enough to attend the debut solo shows of Jennifer Damiano & Adam Chanler-Berat and Louis Hobson, and had a grand old time listening to hilarious and sometimes heart-wrenching stories and hearing fantastic tunes from each.

But this week, it was Brian Justin Crum's turn to take the stage. Mr. Crum became the swing for both Henry and Gabe last spring when Tim Young departed Next to Normal. We both saw him go on for Henry at least a few times, and loved the sweetness of personality and voice that he brought to the role. We literally did everything in our power to catch him as Gabe, but sadly, it seemed that every time we found out he was going on, we were at home on break for various holidays, and completely unable to get to the city in time without paying [insert large amount of money here] for a flight to LaGuardia. Fail.

But honestly? After attending Mr. Crum's concert, entitled "Nowhere Near Normal," I regret not seeing him as Gabe even more...but I can't possibly imagine that even that role allowed him to showcase his voice in all the ways he did at Joe's Pub. Holy. Cow. When the Joe's Pub website billed him as "one of Broadway's most exciting new and versatile tenors"...I mean, Hillary and I knew he had an amazing voice, but WOW. He was PHENOMENAL. We were totally blown away. My jaw was resting comfortably on the floor the entire way through his hour-long set.

There was a moment in the middle of the show when Mr. Crum would begin a song, and I would think to myself, "Wow, he's picking all my favorite songs tonight!" And then he'd move on to the next one, and I'd think, "Wait, no, he really IS picking all my favorite songs!" From opening with Sara Bareilles' driving "Uncharted" and later doing justice to her "Breathe Again" with a gorgeous falsetto, Mr. Crum's choice of 15 unique songs alternated between soulful, totally kickass, and the "realm of the Broadway."

All of Mr. Crum's guest stars were incredible - Donna Vivino took the stage for a medley of Stephen Schwartz songs that included "As Long As You're Mine" from Wicked; the incomparable Tituss Burgess joined him to sing "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife; and Mr. Schwartz himself accompanied the singers on piano for the medley of his songs as well as a personal favorite of mine, "Lost in the Wilderness" from Children of Eden. But Mr. Crum showed no sign of nervousness on stage, and his level of comfort and willingness to have fun with the crowd helped him completely command the night in the midst of so many talented people. And basically, when you sound just as fierce singing a Whitney Houston song ("I'm Your Baby Tonight") as you do belting out a Stephen Schwartz classic ("Lost in the Wilderness"), you deserve that respect. Seriously.

As for highlights of the night? Totally rocking renditions of Marc Broussard's "Rock Steady" and especially Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" are pretty high up on the list, for sure. Hearing Mr. Crum sing "How Glory Goes," from Floyd Collins, after hearing Mr. Chanler-Berat do the same song at Joe's Pub last February. Hearing "Faithfully" after falling in love with the video of Mr. Crum performing the song last summer at Next to Normal's concert for Broadway Impact. A hilarious song called "Wall Lovin'," written by a composing team that we love, Carner and Gregor, served up a catchy tune and quirky lyrics. The previously mentioned Schwartz medley that featured "In Whatever Time We Have" and "As Long As You're Mine" was marvelous and made us really, really hope that Mr. Crum, who made his professional debut as a universal swing in various productions of Wicked, will one day get a chance to perform the role of Fiyero on Broadway. I had never heard "Meadowlark" before, but just when I thought Mr. Crum and Mr. Burgess couldn't belt any higher...they did. Gary Jules' "Mad World" showed off Mr. Crum's ability to capture the audience with such a sensitive song. And "The Power of Love" (Huey Lewis) and Mariah Carey's "You'll Always Be My Baby" were fabulous throwbacks to the 80s and 90s, complete with Starr Busby, Felicia Boswell, and Mykal Kilgore singing backup.

Realizing at one point that our table was sandwiched between Stephen Schwartz, Jessica Phillips, and Sam Carner was pretty cool, too.

In summary, we'd like to send an urgent message to the casting directors of the theater world: please cast this boy in something immediately! I've always believed that actors who begin their careers by swinging multiple characters in a show are some of the most talented people in the business, and Mr. Crum is the epitome of this opinion. With such a versatile voice, a charismatic personality, and the ability to rock out one minute and bust out legit Broadway vocals the next, Mr. Crum has such as bright future ahead of him, and we could not be more excited to see what new projects he takes on.

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