Songs for a New World is not quite a musical, but is more than a collection of songs. Composer Jason Robert Brown, best known for The Last Five Years, Parade and The Bridges of Madison County, calls it “a very theatrical song cycle”. Blue Saint Productions has put together an impressive cast in a show about characters on the brink of making decisions, which might open up new worlds to them.
When I think about Jason Robert Brown’s work, I think of how quickly and cleverly he can sketch a character through lyrics and music – and the further into his shows you go, the more layered and complicated they become. Song For A New World captures that first part of his talent well – we get to know a whole host of characters quickly and effectively.
Two men and two women and nearly twenty songs, with each actor sketching out a handful of characters; sometimes in solos, sometimes in duets and occasionally as an ensemble. You could easily make this a concert of great character songs, but director Luke Joslin guides us from song to song in compelling theatrical ways; a child’s book bag in one song, becomes a precious sack of alcohol for a homeless man in the next.
For a collection of songs, the set – designed by Jacob Battista – is quite evocative. The deck of a ship is basically called for in the second song, but this ship is graffitied with the names and dates of characters we will meet throughout the show. It’s subtle and the names are rarely referenced, except by a lighting cue here or there, illuminating where we are next.
Being such an intimate show – and a collection of character songs, that play like moments in musicals never written –the show requires a really strong cast of singer/actors. These aren’t just beautiful songs with clever lyrics; these songs need skilled all-rounders.
Thankfully, this production has four solid performers – each taking their turn in the spotlight and then stepping back to support the rest of the company. Natalie O’Donnell gets the show’s comedy highlight with ‘Surabaya-Santa’ – about a drunken Mrs Claus leaving her husband. And she also impresses with a Brown standard, ‘Stars and the Moon’.
John O’Hara is dynamic, with the dramatic ‘King of the World’, about an imprisoned man demanding to be free. Teagan Wouters and Linden Furnell are affecting as a couple with ‘I’d Give It All To You’ and each get a moment to shine with ‘Christmas Lullaby’ and ‘She Cries’, respectively.
This show is about characters with choices, none of whom take their responsibilities lightly. If you make the choice to see this show, whether you know Jason Robert Brown’s work or not, a new world of musical storytelling will open up to you.