Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World
New Line Theater
Reviewed by Russ Thomas for KDHX-FM
New Line Theater's production of Songs for a New World is a fascinating, if
difficult to properly describe, evening's entertainment. It's not a play by
any stretch of the imagination. There is no plot, no book, no real story to
be told, only a collection of nineteen songs, all dealing with life crisis
and finding the courage to go on in spite of those very crises. Actually, I'm
at a loss as to just what to call this production, except fascinating,
engrossing and totally absorbing. It's the kind of performance that just
cries out to be seen more than once, just to get all the nuances of the
lyrics of the songs. Maybe one could call this a musical call to personal
reflection, almost a contemporary worship service without dogmatics, but even
that might be too limiting a description for such a freewheeling exploration
into the human soul.

Through the course of the evening you'll hear everything from a single
mother's hymn of praise to God for the gift of her child-to-be in "Christmas
Lullaby" to Mrs. Santa Claus announcing her plans to leave Santa and let him
instead make loving eyes at the Reindeer, in "Surabaya Santa". There is "The
Steam Train" in which a young black man proclaims his dreams of being a
professional basketball star, assuring us that if you don't know him yet,
"you will", and the powerful cry of another black man who did became known to
the world, as a leader of his people, only to face imprisonment in "King of
the World". There is a bold assertion of independence as a woman announces to
the world she is going to leave her husband and children to make a new life
for herself because she is, as the song says, "Not Afraid of Anything", and
then again there is almost a hymn of reconciliation as two people who had
separated come together again in "I'd Give it All for You". Some numbers are
laugh out loud funny, like Mrs. Claus in "Surabaya Santa", some hauntingly
serious like "On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship", and at least one is
either hilarious or tragic, depending on how you hear it, namely "Just One
More Step", in which the performer is really going to jump off a building, or
else she's just making a rather absurd cry for attention. During the
performance I attended, some people were laughing out loud at this piece, and
some were nearly moved to tears at the same time during this intriguing

Directors Scott Miller and Allison Helmer have kept the staging simple and
let the music speak for itself, and that's a wise idea. The voices of the
cast members, Christopher Brenner, John Rhein, Deborah Sharn and Kimi Short
are all outstanding and the emotion they put into each piece lifts the
presentation from just a bunch of songs into something between poetry and
worship. Most of the time the message is a powerful message of hope and faith
in a God who knows the future, but sometimes it becomes a picture of the
despair that comes when one looses that hope and faith. It is, as you can
tell, a complex and fascinating evening you'll be thinking about for a long
time to come. Come see the presentation with a friend whose opinion you
value, then plan to spend many invigorating hours talking about what you
heard on stage. Songs for a New World may be a challenge to describe, but it
would also be a shame to miss.

songs for a new world