Friday, October 27, 1995

His “World” & Welcome to It
Howard Kissel

IN some ways, the most interesting thing about “Songs for a New World” is the young man sitting atop a high platform upstage playing piano and conducting the small ensemble.

Thin, with a carefully sculpted shock of hair that stays in place even when he plays thunderous chords, Jason Robert Brown is a pianist of extraordinary power.

He is also the composer of “Songs for a New World,” a revue with four singers.  The power he exhibits attacking the keyboard is similarly evident in his music – which has a great sense of propulsion, a genuine sense of drama.  He is equally skillful at creating harmonies and using the four voices to good dramatic effect.

All this accomplishment, however, is in the service of largely unconvincing material.  The opening song says we are going to explore “A new world shattering the silence/ A new world I’m afraid to see.”

The world we explore, however, is not quite so startling.  There are several songs about youthful relationships that seem quite tepid.  There’s a number about a wealthy, spoiled woman who is about to jump out of a Fifth Ave. window (people munching popcorn wait on the street below), which is not really very funny.

There are several numbers for black characters that fall under the heading of clichés.

The most pointed, funniest piece is “Surabaya Santa,” a lament in the style of Brecht and Weill for Santa Claus’ lonely wife, stunningly performed by Jessica Molaskey.

Billy Porter has an astonishing tenor voice, which creates great effects.  Brooks Ashmanskas and Andrea Burns also sing beautifully but are saddled with the bland romantic tunes.

Brown, who sings one line toward the end in a rich tenor voice, is like a wild colt that needs to be harnessed.  Once his energies are focused, he could be a powerhouse.

songs for a new world