Copyright (c) 2001, The Baltimore Sun
Link to the article:

Young cast finds its melody on the Hill

Show: All the elements of 'Songs for a New World' combine to make a solid production.

J. Wynn Rousuck

August 2, 2001

An out-of-the-way summer theater. A relatively obscure musical revue. A young, unknown cast. Put them together and, if the combination is Theatre on the Hill's production of Songs for a New World, the result is thoroughly enjoyable.

Although the show's Composer/lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, won the 1999 Tony Award for the score to Parade, that bleak musical was too short-lived to earn him widespread recognition. But Brown's talent was unmistakable, and it first surfaced in this four-person revue, which made its off-Broadway debut in 1995.

In a program note, director Randy White says the revue's 16 songs concern moments "when we are faced with choices we hadn't contemplated." But even this broad theme is a reach considering one song is set on a Spanish ship in 1492 and another is sung by Santa Claus' wife.

Individually, however, several of these songs are little gems. And they are stirringly performed by Nick Cartell, Jeanne Favara, Julie Reiber, and particularly Ryan F. Bergeron, whose distinctive voice makes easy work of a score that stretches from traditional musical theater to blues and rock.

The most effective songs are miniature dramas. In "Stars and Moon," Favara poignantly portrays a woman who repeatedly rejects true love in favor of riches, realizing too late the value of what she has passed up.

Favara also has the amusing task of depicting a fed-up Mrs. Claus, tired of being stuck at home in the Dietrich-esque Weill parody, "Surabaya-Santa."

In contrast to this whimsy, a few songs have religious underpinnings, including another about the same holiday, "Christmas Lullaby," in which Reiber tones down her otherwise bold voice as she sings of emulating the Virgin Mary.

Not everything in the production is this graceful. LeVonne Lindsay's costumes are oddly unflattering, and Ira Domser's set looks as if it were assembled out of leftovers from other shows.

But Brown's songs - whether passionate, funny, sad, hopeful or joyous - surmount these obstacles, proving the truth of his lyric: "Hear my song. It's the one thing I have that has never let me down."

Theatre on the Hill performs in Western Maryland College's Alumni Hall, 2 College Hill, Westminster. Show times are 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, through Aug. 11. Tickets are $16. Call 410-857-2448.

songs for a new world