New twist on revue format in Norwich
                    'Songs for a New World'

                    By Kristina Dorsey
                    Published on 6/2/2000

                    Call it revue No.2 after
                    exploring the classic music
                    theater songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein in “Some
                    Enchanted Evening” in March, the Best Production Company is
                    dipping into the same genre again with “Songs for a New
                    World.” Both shows may both adhere to the all-singing, no-plot
                    style of a revue, but “Songs for a New World” is much hipper
                    and much deeper than the enjoyable but lightweight “Evening.”

                    Created by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown, “Songs”
                    paints a musical portrait of an urban American landscape
                    peopled by the unfulfilled haves and the struggling have-nots,
                    by folks searching for and sometimes finding joy.

                    As the title suggests, they are searching for – or finding
                    themselves – in some kind of new world. The journey to a new
                    world is literal in the number “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing
                    Ship, 1492” but becomes more metaphoric throughout the
                    show. A poor inner-city kid seizes on basketball stardom as a
                    way out of poverty. A woman settles for a marriage that brings
                    her every material thing she could want but none of the
                    soul-satisfying things she needs.

                    The show’s topicality can sometimes become heavy-handed,
                    particularly near the end of the second act. For the most part,
                    though, Brown and Best Director Brett A. Bernardini handle the
                    complex themes with a light touch. They understand that this is
                    entertainment, not polemic. Ultimately, despite its focus on
                    moments of great challenge, the show is about faith and hope.

                    The songs reflect that perspective. Brown combines
                    occasionally biting lyrics with a spirited pop score in the

                    Broadway style of Elton John and Andrew Lloyd Webber. While
                    Rodgers and Hammerstein’s all-about-romance material in
                    “Some Enchanted Evening” could be taken out of its original
                    musical-theater context, Brown’s songs weave together very
                    specific stories, which give each piece an added dramatic

                    Ironically, Brown originally wrote these numbers not for “New
                    World,” but for his cabaret act. Daisy Prince, the daughter of
                    legendary Broadway producer/director Hal Prince, suggested
                    Brown weave the songs into a revue. The result premiered in
                    New York in 1996, three years before Brown won a Tony Award
                    for his work on “Parade.”

                    Even though many of the “New World” songs weren’t intended
                    to be all of the same piece, they meld together gracefully. At the
                    Spirit of Broadway Theater, the songs are given finely shaded
                    readings by the young cast.

                    Christopher Faison, who was quite good in Best’s “Some
                    Enchanted Evening,” is downright thrilling in “Songs for a New
                    World.” His singing is muscular, his acting impassioned. He
                    provides some of “Songs’ ” powerhouse moments. As the
                    basketball player, he combines cockiness and an
                    up-by-the-boot-straps drive. His performance as a death-row
                    inmate about to be electrocuted, though, is the real stand-out.
                    As the doomed prisoner, Faison sings the ironic “King of the
                    World” with strength undercut by the barest hint of fear. He
                    nicely underplays the anguish until the very end, when he is
                    strapped into the electric chair and his singing gives way to
                    panicked breathing.

                    While Faison finesses the gut-wrenching material, Amy Gallant
                    cheerfully immerses herself in comedy. Often cast as demure
                    young things, Gallant exposes her considerable flair for the
                    comic in “Songs for a New World.” She stops the show as Santa
                    Claus’ lascivious, frustrated wife, her voice dripping with
                    Dietrich-accented drama. So what if “Surabaya – Santa” has
                    nothing to do with the rest of “Songs for a New World.” The
                    subject matter lacks any connection to a symbolic new world or
                    to the American landscape, and that would be a huge problem if
                    the song and the performance weren’t so damned entertaining.

                    Almost as funny, but more in keeping with the show’s ideas, is
                    the humorous “Just One Step,” in which Gallant dresses herself
                    up in a fur stole and a sirloin-thick New Yawk dialect. She steps
                    into the role of a wealthy but unhappy woman who hangs from
                    her Fifth Avenue apartment, threatening to jump, and finds she’s
                    attracting fans and attention from a growing crowd below. In the
                    Best production, actors pass out popcorn to theatergoers, as if
                    they’re part of the voyeuristic hordes below the ledge.

                    The cast’s other two performers, Christine Snitken and Joseph
                    Torello, aren’t given the kind of rich material that Faison and
                    Gallant are, but they acquit themselves well. (Torello alternates
                    performances with Michael Baron.)

                    Best Production’s decision to follow up one revue with another
                    was the result of last-minute scrambling rather than long-range
                    planning. “Some Enchanted Evening” was a late addition to the
                    schedule, replacing a drama that would have required 26
                    actors, too many for the still-under-renovation theater to

                    Yet, the back-to-back shows allow theatergoers to see just how
                    different revues can be, comparing the old-style “Evening” and
                    the edgier “New World.”

                    Even after “Songs for a New World” ends its run in Norwich, it
                    will live on. Best’s production will represent Connecticut at
                    September’s American Association of Community Theater/New
                    England Regional Competition in Harvard, Mass.

songs for a new world