Kensington Arts Theatre

March 7-22, 2003
Potomac Stages Pick

On the night that a musicians strike shut all but one of the musicals on Broadway, musical theater was alive and well in the Potomac Region. Some of the disappointed ticket holders up in New York would have been well served had they traveled south to catch six young actors/singers backed by a combo of four give a sample of some of what musical theater is all about - great singing of great songs. This young cast may still have work to do on their technique and their technical skills but they already know how to deploy their considerable natural gifts, capture a moment and carry an audience along with them. And they do so with an intensity approaching true passion. They take these deeply personal songs, each of which has something intrinsically dramatic to say, and make a genuinely touching scene out of each one. They belt like mad, wail, soar and, when the text calls for it, pull it all down to a passionate hush.

Storyline: At age twenty-five songwriter Jason Robert Brown pulled together sixteen of the songs he had written for various projects (shows, cabaret, concerts) and director Daisy Prince found a common theme to make a show of the pieces. The theme is the moment of decision, the point at which you transition from the old to the new. The change may be geographical, emotional, professional or marital but things are different than they were before.  The result is neither musical play nor revue, it is closer to a theatrical song cycle, a very theatrical song cycle.

Brown writes intensely personal, highly dramatic songs. They range from country-ish story songs to gospel tinged wails and from pop colored romps to solo pieces of either concentrated personal revelation or slightly off beat comedy. There’s a pregnant woman’s expression of wonder at creation, the story of a would-be basketball star aching to escape the dead-end world of failure, the lament of a couple who broke up only to find their separate ways led nowhere, and even the hopes and fears for the future that weigh heavily on the explorers sailing to find a new world in 1492 and the flagmaker creating the banner for a new nation in 1775. Each song is musically distinctive and dramatically effective.

The problem of coming up with a single set on which to stage such diverse scenes seems to have stimulated designers Emi Nakatsagawa and Jordan S. Potash. They came up with a New York-ish skyline roof top of platforms that can change with a few steps of the cast or swing of a hinge. Director Michael Pranikoff uses this flexibility well as he moves his cast about to create combinations or to separate a solo. Danika Kirstin Ingle has two major opportunities and pulls off one of them marvelously. Her chair routine for the full cast is big, bold and creative. Her routine for the basketball number, however, couldn’t mask the lack of comfort among the cast with even the small balls they were given since they would be less prone to drops.

That cast is a treasure trove of probable future musical theater notables. The three women bring strong, soaring voices to solo work and the ability to blend smoothly for larger numbers. CJ Allyn delivers the folk flavored cabaret number “Stars and the Moon” with the clarity of an early Joan Baez while Michelle Simon makes “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” a personal revelation. Wendy Baird sells the two big darkly comedic cabaret numbers – a jilted wife on a ledge threatening to take “Just One Step” to end it all and the fed up wife of that seasonal slob Santa. The three men raise their voices to the rafters as well. Steven Block anchors the shows sound with his gospel wail and Michael Hadary blending marvelously with Allyn on the breaking up was a mistake song “I’d Give It All For You.” Jason Misner seemed to have brought his fan club from his youth theater Bound4Broadway and they went wild with real justification when he popped open a beer at the reference to opening the floodgates in “She Cries” and again when he delivered the entire hyper-dramatic raving of “King of the World” in a straight jacket. Backing the cast was the marvelously solid sound of Music Director Willis Rosenfeld on lead keyboard with his brother Joe on drums. All of this, with the vocals coming through their father Marty Rosenfeld’s sound system created an impressive dynamic impact.

Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Conceived by Daisy Prince. Directed by Michael Pranikoff. Music Direction by Willis Rosenfeld. Choreographed by Danika Kirstin Ingle. Design: Emi Nakatsagawa and Jordan S. Potash (set) Jamie Blake (properties) Joe Connor (lights) Marty Rosenfeld (sound) Michael Dumlao (photography) Tanya Howard (stage manager). Cast: CJ Allyn, Wendy Baird, Steven Block, Michael Hadary, Jason Misner, Michelle Simon.

songs for a new world