Boston Herald
Sunday, June 24, 2001

Revue changes `World'
by Robert Nesti

``Songs for a New World,'' presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company, at the
Lyric Stage, Boston, through Tuesday.

``Songs for a New World,'' Jason Robert Brown's eclectic collection of story
songs, is one of the most strikingly original musical revues to appear in
quite some time.

In fact, its uniqueness nearly defies description. Lacking plot or an
obvious theme, the production simply offers an introduction to the work of
this gifted songwriter, who brings a pop sensibility to the musical theater

The show is served up in a concert-style production (a reprise of last
November's much-heralded Boston premiere by the SpeakEasy Stage Company)
that bursts with the talents of 14 of this area's best performers. The
combination proves nearly combustible.

Brown, one of a new generation of songwriters whose work is changing the
face of the musical theater, conceived of the revue nearly a decade ago as a
showcase for some songs he had written while in college and as a struggling
composer-performer living in New York. It appeared briefly off-Broadway in
1995, but a recording from that production quickly achieved cult status and
led to more productions around the country. (Brown went on to write the Tony
Award-winning score to ``Parade'' in 1998.)

The SpeakEasy production, staged by Paul Daigneault, is performed
concert-style, a simple approach that works extremely well with the dramatic
demands of the 16 songs assembled here. Evoking a variety of pop music
styles - from Paul Simon-like pop to jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, gospel,
even country - Brown's music has immediate appeal.

To this, add his narrative skills, and you have a revue that challenges as
much as it entertains.

Each song tells a dark story with the conciseness of a good one-act play.
Brown can be witty, as in ``Surabaya-Santa,'' his droll takeoff on Kurt
Weill in which an angry Mrs. Claus lashes out at her husband, here
fetchingly performed by cabaret favorite Belle Linda Halpern. Or richly
ironic, as with ``Stars and the Moon,'' the show's best-known number nicely
rendered by Stacey Cervellino.

There's a dynamic turn by Jose Delgado who brings emotional depth to ``The
Steam Train,'' the story of doomed ambitions of a ghetto youth, and the
gifted Bridget Beirne turns ``Christmas Lullaby'' into an expressive
country-style ballad.

The range of emotions here is simply extraordinary, and they are well
matched by the cast (and the five on-stage musicians, under the precise
direction of Paul Katz). Their dedication to this material is apparent

songs for a new world