Sunday 15 September 2019

Navan's musical genius Brian Byrne and his American wife Kasey Jones staging first musical together


Brian Byrne and Kasey Jones. Photo: David Conachy
Brian Byrne and Kasey Jones. Photo: David Conachy

Andrea Smith

Most people would be too daunted by the prospect of creating and staging a musical to even consider it, with all of the stressful logistics, myriad complications and financial risks involved. Others would balk at the prospect of embarking on a project like this with their romantic partner, but Golden Globe-nominated composer Brian Byrne, from Navan, and his Oklahoma-born wife Kasey Jones are willing to take a chance on it.

The pair are in the process of creating a musical together called Angel of Broadway. "It's amazing to collaborate so closely with your partner on something so all-consuming, intriguing and difficult," says Brian, who is in charge of composing the music while Kasey focuses on the script. "It's a daunting task, but so much fun to hope that it might have legs and entertain people and see the light of day."

The storyline centres around two Irish brothers from a small rural village in the 1970s.

Frankie has an amazing voice and Charles gets him an opportunity to go to New York, but a tragic love triangle that ensues when they fall for the same woman ultimately tears the two brothers apart and they become estranged.

Moving to the 1990s, Frankie, who once had success and happiness in the palm of his hand, now finds himself on the edge of insanity and one step away from being homeless. When news breaks that the flophouse he lives in is set to be demolished, Frankie and his down-and-out friends rise up and go after the successful and powerful man responsible for the demolition, Frankie's estranged brother, Charles.

The audience is taken on an emotional journey through Frankie's former life back home in Ireland, his brief encounter with Broadway fame, his triumphs, failures and the bond he once had with Charles.

The cast includes Ian Pirie, Willie Byrne, Megan Pottinger, Fra Fee and Montel Moore. Twink, aka Adele King, is playing the brothers' mother, and her former husband and oboeist extraordinaire David Agnew will also be involved as the RTE Concert Orchestra (RTECO), conducted by Brian, will be joining the cast for two concert performances of the musical at the National Concert Hall next month.

Brian and Kasey are smart enough to know that they will need to be very sure that they have a winner on their hands before they take it to the next step, so they decided to stage a concert version of the musical first in Ireland.

It will have all the songs and storyline but will be minimally staged, so that the creative couple can test it out and tweak it ahead of a full Irish production next year.

"We know the odds are tough mounting a new Broadway musical, but you have to try," says Brian. "It has to be a passion to put yourself through the daily grind of writing and rewriting and arguing over who gets to sing what and what's fun and what's not? It is definitely a test of a good marriage. Luckily we have a great one, and we have two beautiful kids and a dog to keep us grounded and happy."

Brian (42) and Kasey (37) met in 2003 at the communal pool of their Santa Monica apartment complex and were immediately smitten. "I went back inside and put on the smallest bikini I could find," laughs Kasey.

"Brian is gorgeous and honest and so kind, aside from his wonderful musical ability."

Brian thought Kasey was "beautiful and intriguing" and says that now, after 16 years, he finds her more beautiful than ever. They got married in 2006, and have a 10-year-old son, Asa, and a four-year-old daughter Roxy, and say that becoming parents was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Kasey is an only child, and comes from a rodeo family, so horses are a huge part of her life. She studied broadcasting at college, working as a producer and anchor in a local TV station, and now works as a lyricist and scriptwriter.

Brian grew up in Navan with his six brothers and one sister, and his love of music stemmed from his parents, Margaret and the late Jim, who were very much involved in music and performance and also wrote songs together.

Jim ran the long-established barber and hairdressing salon, Byrne's, in the town.

Brian studied classical piano, orchestration and jazz at university in Glasgow, and has made a serious name for himself in the film and music business as a composer, arranger and conductor.

His song Lay Your Head Down, from the film Albert Nobbs received a Golden Globe nomination in 2012. It was performed by Sinead O'Connor and co-written by actress Glenn Close.

He has also worked on Moya Doherty and John McColgan's Heartbeat of Home, and composed The Cry Inside, which Kelly Clarkson sang on Jim Sheridan's movie The Secret Scripture.

"I also got to work with Josh Groban on the movie Boychoir, starring Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates," says Brian.

"I wrote a song with Alanis Morissette for a movie about Eileen Gray and also struck up a friendship with Julian Lennon. The soundtrack will be released this year, featuring the RTECO."

As artist-in-residence, Brian has embarked on many exciting projects with the RTECO, including working on the film Black 47, and with director, John Carney, on his new Amazon show, Modern Love, featuring Anne Hathaway.

Brian and Kasey were nominated for a World Soundtrack Award together for best original song from the movie, Jenny's Wedding, starring Katherine Heigl.

Brian also released his own album, Goldenhair, in 2017, featuring Glenn Close, Grammy winner Kurt Elling, Declan O' Rourke, Julian Lennon and more. In between film and TV projects he has arranged strings for artists like Sarah McLachlan and Pink, Other highlights include being commissioned to compose a fanfare for Queen Elizabeth's visit to Dublin, working on the movie Sex and the City 2, and producing Katy Perry's song Firework.

Brian will have dual citizenship from this year, and he and Kasey moved from Los Angeles to Oklahoma two years ago, and are loving life there. Brian has even become a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. Kasey's family live a few miles away, which is great for the children, who have their own horse, Tex, on the family ranch. They also love coming to Ireland for extended breaks, when the children get to play with their cousins.

"Then we get to travel for the fun stuff, like recording and performing," says Brian. "The quiet in Oklahoma certainly leaves room for the muse to appear and it's important to have that space to be able to create. But we love the city buzz of LA and Dublin, so it's all about trying to find the right balance."

The world premiere of 'Angel of Broadway' with the RTE Concert Orchestra takes place at the National Concert Hall on June 12 and 13 at 8pm. Tickets: €12-€39.50,

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