Songs For A New World
Songs For A New World by Jason Robert Brown
I finally got round to seeing Songs For A New World at St James Theatre on Wednesday 5th August after hearing many good things about it. I should probably declare early on that I am a big fan of Jason Robert Brown and I have been a fan of this show for around 10 years when it was the show on after mine at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I subsequently brought the sound track and know a large chunk of it off by heart.
This show is essentially a collection of songs with no narrative and (to steal from the director’s notes) blends time periods, locations and tone.
This show really has to focus on the music as despite protests that there is a plot/theme running throughout it is ultimately a song cycle. Luckily for this production of Songs For A New World what really stood out about this performance in particular was the supremely high quality of the cast. The cast was made up of Cynthia Erivo, Damian Humbley, Dean John-Wilson and Jenna Russell. They were all able not only to sing these individual numbers with apparent ease but drove home the different and hugely varying emotions in the piece. The performers were very different but that is what made the casting so perfect. It helped make clear the directors vision that no matter where we are in our lives at the present time there is some relevance in Songs For A New World for all of us.
Cynthia’s voice was simply phenomenal and I could understand all of the fuss surrounding her at the moment. She ranged from angelic in ‘Christmas lullaby’ to determined ‘I’m not Afraid of Anything.’ Jenna Russell did what she does best- comedy and character and her numbers with focus on this, including, ‘Just One Step’ and ‘Surabaya Santa’ were some of the highlights of the show. Damian Humbley brought his charisma to the stage in bundles and was so effortlessly watchable. One slight grumble was that the songs he was given did not give his voice a chance to soar. Finally Dean John-Wilson, who I have not had the pleasure to come across before, had a great likeability. His voice was sublime and I can’t wait to see him in more musical theatre!
The setting was simple but effective, a New York loft apartment where pieces of furniture and memory filled boxes sparked off the songs. I was left wondering at times the continued relevance of some of the props but then they also served to make me invent and imagine my own back story for Man 1/Woman 2 etc. and really get me thinking about the connections between the songs and the characters. The movement by Polly Bennett was cleverly done. No sooner did one cast member leave a chair then the next cast member had filled their place. The staging and movement was pitched perfectly by director, Adam Lenson – any less and you would resort to a concert style piece where you could loose some of the emotion of the mini stories within each number, any more and the piece could become jumbled and over complicated.
Songs For A New World is only on until the 8th August so move quickly, even if it is just to see this remarkable cast onstage together.