West Southern CA July 23, 2003
Songs for a New World
Reviewed By Madeleine Shaner

"It's about one moment..." sums up the ethic behind Jason Robert Brown's musical revue. The moment may be a turning point in a relationship, a moment of recognition or epiphany, a moment of final frustration with a career that's not happening, or maybe a universal moment like the one on Sept. 11, 2001. Brown's lovely story-songs are cries from the heart by a quartet of coffee mates who hang at the Santa Maria Cafe. They're introduced "On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship," the Santa Maria, of course. Man 1 (Steven Janji) is an aspiring artist and a server at the Greenwich Village cafe, in "The River Won't Flow." Woman 2 (Casey Jones) is unhappy in her marriage; "Just One Step" and it could all be over, she sings. Man 2 (Rick Cornette), who's having his relationship problems and sings "She Cries," and Woman 1 (Jennifer Paz), a student, who has just discovered she's pregnant and sings "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," find themselves attracted to each other.

When "Steam Train" takes off, the four young people find themselves aboard. Kay Cole's unorthodox choreography moves the singers through the uniquely furnished coffee house as if they're regular drop-ins who sit and read, or watch the passing scene, or sketch, or just get up and mingle, and, when the spirit takes them, they sing out their hopes and frustrations from wherever they happen to be at that moment.

The musical isn't about story or conflict but primarily about bonding and about the moments that make up lives. Without letting the seams show, Jon Lawrence Rivera has wound a harmonious scenario around the songs, creating a book musical, so when the strangers come together to comfort the sadness of one or share in the joy of another, there's a feeling of sweet reality--people really do care about each other.

Paz is in tremendous voice, strong and endearing, particularly in "Christmas Lullaby." Jones is a trippy contrast, sexy and cool in "Stars and the Moon" and "Surabaya Santa." Cornette is the perfect resident romantic, making us understand why Paz sings, "I'd Give It All for You." Janji, the striving server, is athletically punky and believable in "King of the World" and "Flying Home," the rousing ensemble number that speeds him home on an art scholarship.

Featured artists Amadea Bailey, Jon Go, George Moar, Matt Naylor, and Brady Smith provide the pieces of de facto artwork that line the walls of the coffee house set, designed by Justin Huen and director Rivera. With cafe tables and chairs, and deep pile couches and armchairs dispersed around the room, this is a very comfortable way to enjoy a musical revue; one can even change one's point of view of the wild art at intermission by changing one's seat.

presented by TDRZ Productions, in association with Playwrights' Arena, at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Downtown L.A. Thurs.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m. July 11-Aug. 4. $25-30. (310) 578-2378.

songs for a new world