Friday, October 27, 1995

A Pastiche of Songs by Rising Talent
By Aileen Jacobson, Staff Writer

AH, ASSOCIATION with fame.  Sometimes it brings you attention before you’re ready.

Here we have the directorial debut of Daisy Prince, daughter of the legendary Hal Prince.  And the Off-Broadway songwriting debut, at the astonishing age of 25, of Jason Robert Brown, who is currently working on a Broadway-bound music [sic] with Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred Uhry and the legendary Prince pere.

“Songs for a New World” is billed a s a musical revue.  However, as the amorphous title hints, it’s a pastiche of far-flung songs – with roots in gospel, rock and Sondheim – that would all be improved by being heard in other contexts.  They’re presented without a compelling through-line – except the frequent repetition of the all-purpose “a new world calls” theme, titled “The New World” – to explain why one number follows another.  Each songs seems a promising fragment in search of a whole.

A few sound as though they at least come from the same trunk.  The title song, another called “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship, 1492,” and a Betsy Ross anthem, “The Flagmaker, 1775,” possibly belong to a musical about the founding of America.  But where does a comic ditty fit in about a wife who’s threatening to jump from a ledge because her husband won’t buy her a mink coat?  And what about a Kurt Weill parody, “Surabaya-Santa,” that would fit comfortably in a college spoof?

Even though Prince has failed to put together a cohesive show – and the scraggly staging, with limp choreography by Michael Arnold, robs it of a sense of occasion – there are bright moments.

Billy Porter, a strong singer, creates a sense of sadness and menace in a song from a young man who lives in a ghetto with the ominous refrain, “You don’t know me, but you will.” Later, he brings poignance [sic] to a song about a man trapped in prison.

Andrea Burns, who also has a lovely voice, delivers a moving song about a young woman who is not as confident as she asserts, in “I’m Not Afraid of Anything”; later, she croons a tender lullaby as a mom-to-be.  Jessica Molaskey proves a fine comic actress as the woman on the ledge and as Mrs. Santa (though it’s disheartening that a 25-year-old writer often portrays women as stereotypically materialistic and manipulative).  Brooks Ashmanskas has the least to do, but teams nicely with Burns in a ballad from a couple who have split up and are back together again.

We know we’ll hear again from Brown, who also plays piano, leads the orchestra and even sings briefly.  And, given her pedigree, Daisy Prince will no doubt learn, grow and direct again.

songs for a new world