Showpieces run rampant in Songs
for a New World
By Jack Zink
Posted January 25 2005
Songs for a New World
Where: Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile (Coral Way), Coral
When: Shows 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
Info: Call 954-444-9293.
There must be a piano bar in heaven where actors, singers and
musical theater nerds gather to celebrate the greatest music of all
time, while the rest of the saints are off at a stadium somewhere doing
the wave to Michael Bolton performing the Barry Manilow songbook.
That thought came to mind as the musical revue Songs for a New World
approached one of its many crescendos on opening night at the Miracle
Theatre in Coral Gables.
Four top-flight singers wrestle some remarkably tangled melodic lines
into gut-punching mini-oratorios. At the same time, musical director
Eric Alsford's instrumental quintet thrashes the air with pulsating,
percussive backup that is an aural trampoline for the singers -- and
like the archetypal barroom pianist, is the most thankless job in show
Songs for a New World is composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown's birth
yelp. In retrospect, the grudging 1995 reviews were the collective
announcement of musical theater's Next Big Thing when Songs premiered
off-Broadway. Brown went on to win the Tony Award for the score of
Parade in 1999, and later added cult appreciation with The Last Five
A decade after the debut of Songs for a New World, the work remains a
testament to Brown's innate talent and promise. The music and lyrics
are stylish and alternately clever, dramatic and funny. The songs
demand as much talent from performers as they herald for the author.
They're unbridled showpieces for performers and composer alike, but
their sophisticated artifice more often than not strips the gears
between the intellect and the heart, for the latter is seldom engaged.
Director David Arisco pours every ounce of commitment he has into the
production, and choreographer Barbara Flaten keeps the movement
interesting on designer Gene Seyffer's wrought-iron staircases.
Singers Rachel Jones, Tally Sessions and Blythe Gruda are standouts who
have built the Miracle Theatre's musical dominance in South Florida
regional theater, and are matched by newcomer Kevin Smith Kirkwood.
Brown's musical lines celebrate their voices. Alsford works the grand
piano eagerly and effectively, with snappy backing from David Nagy on
synthesizer, Martha Spangler alternating acoustic and electric bass,
Sam Levine on drums and Nick Trotogott on an array of tinkly
In sum, they're generating some really serious noise on Miracle Mile,
possibly the best this side of musical theater heaven at the moment.
But it's an acquired taste.
songs for a new world