Midweek Magazine 27 Aug 01

Songs for a New World ***
Adam Scott

More a song cycle than a musical, Jason Robert Brown¹s SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD (Bridewell 020 7936 3456) is an intelligent and sophisticated take on our millennial obsession with the ŚR¹ word: Relationships.  We begin on the deck of a Spanish sailing ship in 1492, literally travelling in search of the New World, and gradually taper down to the myriad new worlds created by the everyday people that became its citizens.

The schmaltz that lingers behind the blacks for the duration of the show is mostly kept at bay by a raft of fine comic songs.  These leap out and are sure to become cabaret favourites among the musical theatre cognoscenti.  Just One Step, the last ravings of a Śjumper¹ on the 57th floor, opens the show on a suitably cynical note. Surabaya-Santa (a nice nod to the Weill/Brecht classic from Happy End) tales the tale of the hapless woman who married a jolly fat bloke called Nick, only to find he was Santa Claus with a reindeer fetish.  The Joni Mitchell-ish hippie calypso of Stars and the Moon is beautifully subverted into a paean to materialism, with a twist.

The songs burst with anticipation ­ and when they strike darker notes, the piece really soars.  Golda Rosheuvel¹s achingly reined-in I¹m Not Afraid of Anything is a moment of incredible power.  There are only a few Beverley Craven/Michael Bolton moments, when the soft rock goes gooey.  And the hyperglycaemic ending where the cast get all touchy-feely and smile at each other encouragingly while singing Śwe¹ll be fine¹, is a bit hard to choke down.  But the four strong voices handle the American fromage with unimpeachable truth.  As Beautiful Game, All You Need Is Love, and Starlight go to the wall, the future looks even brighter with a show like this at the Bridewell.

songs for a new world