May 21, 2002, 9:19AM
Masquerade produces a `New World' with potential
By EVERETT EVANS
"Promising" seems the most suitable description for
Songs for a New World, the revue making its local bow
at Masquerade Theatre.
Presented off-Broadway in 1995, Songs introduced
Jason Robert Brown as a bright young composer/lyricist
whose efforts would be worth following. That promise
was fulfilled with the 1998 premiere of Parade, the
ambitious musical that marked Brown's Broadway debut
and won him a Tony for his score, one of the finest in
Experiencing Songs after the more-accomplished and
unified Parade may feel anticlimactic. As a loose-knit
assemblage of Brown's early songs, the revue is
nowhere near as powerful as Parade.
That show, given a scaled-down yet potent Houston
premiere by Masquerade earlier this year, showed what
Brown can do when he has a strong story and theme.
Songs offers a more informal demonstration of Brown's
knack for melding aspects of contemporary pop, folk,
gospel and other genres with the traditional musical
theater delineation of character and situation.
The songs are a mixed bag, with little to connect them
beyond the general theme: moments of crisis and
decision. Yet while a few strain for their effects or lapse
into generic New Age sentiments, most hold the interest
through distinctive qualities of their music or ideas.
The opening, A New World, sung by characters braving
uncharted waters (it also recurs to bridge later
numbers), frames the evening nicely with its expansive
melody and message. The River Won't Flow gives
voice to the frustrations of society's dispossessed. King
of the World, a convict's aria, rails with thwarted power
and lost opportunity. The Flagmaker, 1776, depicts an
anguished mother, whose son is at war, pouring her
heartache into the task of stitching a flag.
Stars and the Moon -- one of Brown's best-known
songs, recorded by Audra McDonald and Betty Buckley
-- is a woman's explanation of why she married for
wealth and security rather than love and adventure. The
World Was Dancing shows how lovers on the brink of
marriage wind up parting anyway, while I'd Give It All for
You poignantly depicts a reunion of lovers who had
gone their separate ways.
The comic songs are ironic: Just One Step, in which a
neglected wife tries to get her husband's attention by
attempting suicide and Surabaya Santa, a Kurt Weill-ish
take on the domestic woes of Mrs. Santa Claus.
The six singers demonstrate a strong commitment to
Brown's often-demanding music (despite the fact that a
couple seemed to be fighting vocal strain at Thursday's
opening). Their heartfelt renditions usually muster the
necessary vocal power.
Luther Chakurian projects go-for-broke energy as the
prisoner in King of the World and the dying soldier in
Flying Home. Rebekah Dahl's comic Just One Step and
tragic The Flagmaker are vivid character portraits in
song. Ilich Guardiola brings a smooth, angry strength to
The River Won't Flow and The Steam Train.
Stephanie Bradow's sturdy, confident style suits I'm Not
Afraid of Anything and I'd Give It All for You. Michael J.
Ross sings She Cries and The World Was Dancing with
force and remorseful intensity. Kaytha Coker conveys
the right sweetness and simplicity in Christmas Lullaby
though her Stars and the Moon may be a tad
Phillip Duggins' rudimentary staging could exert greater
punch and pizazz, though the four-person band plays
Songs for a New World
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and Mondays, 3
p.m. Sundays, through June 1
Where: Masquerade Theatre, 1537 N. Shepherd
Tickets: $20-$25; 713-861-7045
songs for a new world