Songs for a New World
Reviewed by Martin Denton
The brilliant Bridewell has done it again. No theatre in Britain is
adventurous when it comes to finding and introducing new musicals, and no
theatre in Britain does them better, either.
Following its exemplary premieres of the early off-Broadway work of
Guettel (Floyd Collins) and Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again), the
Bridewell now formally introduces the third member of the triumvirate of
talent that emerged in New York in the mid-nineties, by offering the UK
premiere of Songs for a New World, the wonderful revue of some 16 songs with
which Jason Robert Brown first announced his arrival off-Broadway in 1995.
Since then, Brown has also written the Tony-winning score to Parade
and although the show failed commercially in its Lincoln Center premiere
directed by Hal Prince, he is clearly a force to be reckoned with. So, too,
is Clive Paget, the Artistic Director of the Bridewell, whose unstinting
admiration of these writers is lovingly revealed in his acutely sensitive
and captivatingly beautiful stagings of their shows.
It's not as easy as he makes it look: both Guettel and LaChiusa, with
elusive, but far from exclusive, musical structures make for concentrated
hearing, and Paget's productions held you for their difficult but rewarding
journeys; and Songs for a New World, though it reveals Brown to be
melodically easily the most accessible, direct and joyous writer of the
trio, has the most negligible dramatic structure to hang those melodies off.
Paget's solution weaves the songs and performers in and out of each
but treats each as if it were a one-act musical of its own. These are
thrilling story songs, rather than plot ones, that conjure entire worlds,
relationships and feelings. Not surprisingly, several of them are already
cabaret standards: both the incandescent Audra McDonald and Betty Buckley
have already made Stars and the Moon into signature songs of theirs.
Though neither Sarah Redmond nor the vibrant, vivacious Golda Rosheuvel
yet in that Broadway power league, they're superb interpreters who place the
material first, their own egos as performers second. It's refreshing to find
such selflessness in the 'look at me' artifice of musical theatre, and
they're gorgeously complemented by two slightly more strident men, Craig
Purnell and Nigel Richards, to make a superb ensemble.
- Mark Shenton
songs for a new world