A 'New World' worth discovering
Admirable expertise marks "Songs for a New World" in its local
premiere by Playwrights Arena at Los Angeles Theatre Center. Jason
Robert Brown's abstract 1995 revue about life's turning points receives
a highly accomplished production.
Though "New World" had a limited run of 28 performances at
Manhattan's WPA Theatre, it conclusively established composer-lyricist
Brown as a major talent, leading to 1999's "Parade," a Tony Award and a
fervent fan base.
They surely will cheer this staging. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera
co-set-designer Justin Huen concoct a vivid environmental coffeehouse,
swimming in mismatched furnishings and original art.
The concept permits Rivera's sleek quartet of performers, initially
planted around the audience, to attack Brown's lustrous, emotionally
specific songs with breathtaking intimacy.
Jennifer Paz is, as ever, angelic of voice and person, piercing the
heart with her pregnant co-ed's "Christmas Lullaby." Rick Cornette's
love-burned jock is matinee-idol handsome, with a soaring tenor and an
uncanny ability to withstand audience eye contact. Steven Janji,
although nobody's hoopster, invests his streetwise server with
unswerving fervor. Casey Jones' disillusioned trophy wife, whose
haunting "Stars and the Moon" may be "New World's" best song, counters
her slender instrument with valiant commitment.
Kay Cole's choreography is precise, Brent Crayon's musical direction
is colorful, Elle Hamm's costumes are convincing and Gerry Gregory
Linsangan's lighting plot is astounding.
Less so is Rivera's revised text, setting the action before and after
Sept. 11. This well-intended notion is better left to subtext, the
tragic overlay demanding a weight beyond Brown's series of virtual
one-acts. These nevertheless retain their celebrated potency, which
recommends this keenly executed miniature.
--David C. Nichols
"Songs for a New World," Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring
St., L.A. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 and 8 p.m. Ends Aug.
9. $30-$25. (310) 578-2378. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
songs for a new world