Songs For a New World

Bridewell, London
Rating ***

Lyn Gardner
Friday August 24, 2001
The Guardian

The theatrical song cycle is not a popular form, but Jason Robert Brown's ensemble piece for four singer-actors makes a pretty good case for it.

In some ways this 1995 work is no more than a calling card from the composer and lyricist who just three years later was to win a Tony for Parade, the best Broadway musical of 1998. But the musical sophistication and theatrical vibrancy of every song should be evident even to those with cloth ears.

Less a cycle than an arc or rainbow, the 19 songs create a sense of movement and possibility. Every song is its own little journey, whether seen from Christopher Columbus's ship on his 1492 voyage of discovery or from the ledge of a Fifth Avenue apartment where a neglected and manipulative wife teeters on the brink. These are variations on a theme: people who make the leap and sail off happily over the horizon and those who simply drop over the edge.

The evening concentrates on personal journeys at the expense of bolder links to history and social shifts in thinking.. But you can't help warming to the optimism of what is very much a young man's show, ripe with the sense of life's possibilities.

Not everyone will take to its teeth-and-smiles wholesomeness, but you have to rate Clive Paget's wonderfully simple, exquisitely lit staging, particularly in the way it keeps the journey metaphor alive via the ingenious use of two sets of aircraft steps. The performances are everything you could wish for too.

Until September 15. Box office: 020-7936 3456.

songs for a new world