International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, August 22, 2001

by Sheridan Morley

On the London fringe, the Bridewell is rapidly establishing itself as the home for new or lost Broadway musicals that have somehow slipped through the net of larger or better-financed houses, and in that tradition we now get the long-delayed British premiere of Jason Robert Brown's "Songs for a New World," which, first seen off-Broadway in 1995, has since enjoyed more than 80 revivals across the United States.

As the title suggests, this is a song-cycle with no apparent internal logic. There are ballads about the first American settlers, about the agony of being married to Santa Claus, about a wife so desperate for her husband's attention that she is willing to dive from a window ledge to get it, and then, inevitably, some more autobiographical numbers about the agony and the ecstasy of growing up in New York.

Like Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa, whose work the Bridewell director Clive Paget has also commendably introduced to local audiences, Jason Robert Brown is one of the "Sondheim Babes," a generation of thirty-something songwriters who owe a tremendous debt to Sondheim but are trying to find their own voices in a New York theater now looking so far back over its shoulder as to be in danger of breaking its neck.

As yet, none of them has achieved a smash hit (Brown's only Broadway outing thus far has been the short-lived Hal Prince "Parade"), but all of them show serious promise. Brown's problem in "Songs for a New World" is only that he has nothing especially new to say and seems to be searching for a theme that has so far eluded him. All the same, in Paget's minimalist staging, a cast of four - Craig Purnell, Sarah Redmond, Nigel Richards and Golda Rosheuvel - do what they can to create characters in a little more depth and detail than is afforded by the songs alone.

songs for a new world