`Songs for a New World' resound at Peddie
Wednesday, July 23, 2003
By MICHAEL KOWNACKY
Each season, local theater companies usually revive perennial favorite musicals
that they're sure will bring in audiences. It's refreshing, then, to come
across a rarely performed show that had only a limited run in New York being
given an excellent production in the area. This is very much the case with
Jason Robert Brown's musical revue "Songs for a New World" appearing only
once more, on Friday, as part of the summer season presented by the Community
Arts Partnership at The Peddie School.
Described as "a collection of theater songs," "Songs for a New World" is
really a disassociated assembly of 15 pieces that portray a cross-section
of individuals and situations. The only drawback of this piece is its apparent
desire to be held together with the common thread of all of this happening
in some "New World." Quite often that isn't the case, and the collection
might have been more successful if its creators hadn't tried to make these
wonderfully diverse pieces fit together.
The major strength of the evening is not its ordinary physical production
which places actors wearing black on a black-draped stage, but the quality
of the voices and the excellence of the band. Each member of the cast - Todd
Gregoire, Suzanne Houston, Peter de Mets, Kristen Umansky, Mitchell Scott
Shapiro, Marla Weiner and Anthony J.M. Vitalo - performs his or her music
with wonderful confidence and surety. Some of the voices would have benefited
from amplification, but the singing quality is, on the whole, some of the
best heard in local theater.
It's also a major credit to this ensemble that they're able to go forward
in the face of adversity. At 4 p.m. on the day of the performance I attended,
one of the cast members became ill. A fast rehearsal was scheduled, parts
and blocking were rearranged (including the running order of the second act)
and director Rick Joyce stepped in to perform in place of Britta King. It
would have been difficult to tell that an integral member of the cast was
missing because the polish and professional delivery of the rest of the group
The support from the pit is marvelous as well. "The Pitbulls" are a group
of musicians who specialize in musical theater; this is evident from the
quality of their playing. There is some challenging music in this show and
The Pitbulls deliver a strong performance which never wavers. The six-member
group includes Larry Rothweiler, Carl Strotz, Dennis Farrelly, Dimitri, Dan
Patak and Jeff Beyert. It's such a joy to hear music played so well.
The songs range from sweeping ballads, such as "A New World" and "Stars and
the Moon," to some wonderful character pieces, such as "I'm Not Afraid" where
a housewife and mother discusses her life as she folds laundry. There's also
a wonderfully comic lament by the latest Mrs. Claus in "Surabaya Santa."
Joyce, as director, has staged the evening intelligently and effectively;
however, the black-on-black approach is rather somber and bland, especially
under Marilyn Anker's often dim lighting design. This, however, is a minor
Sadly, there is only one more performance of "Songs for a New World" at the
comfortably air-conditioned Mount Burke Theatre on the campus of The Peddie
School. It's appearing in repertory with "The Spitfire Grill," another new
musical which had its start locally at the George Street Playhouse. This
weekend is the last weekend for both, but either show is sure to be just
the ticket for an adventurous theatergoer who wants something different.
"Songs for a New World," Friday, 8 p.m., Mount Burke Theatre on the campus
of The Peddie School in Hightstown. Tickets are $10, and seating is reserved.
(609) 490-7550 or (www.peddie.org/capps).