Review: 'Songs For a New World' by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown at Bryant-Lake Bowl
by William Randall Beard
Local audiences are unlikely to be familiar with
JasonRobertBrown, even though he won a 1999 Tony Award
for the musical "Parade." That's one reason to be grateful to
Theater Latte Da for presenting "Songs For a New World," a
new revue of Brown's material from "Parade" and other shows.
It's unfortunate, though, that the presentation doesn't serve as a
These days, revues are primarily retrospectives, a chance to
rediscover and reminisce over more or less familiar songs. In this
case, Theatre Latte Da is to be applauded for offering new
material, even though the production's style might be more
appropriate to an evening of standards.
With red velvet drapes and red plush upholstery, the
Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater takes on the look of a classic
nightclub. Theater Latte Da has done more-theatrical revues in
the past, but the presentation here is appropriate to the set: It's
very stand-up-and-sing. The four singers are grouped tastefully,
sitting or standing in front of microphones.
Peter Rothstein's direction is simple and unobtrusive, perhaps too
much so. These are theater songs, but robbed of any theatrical
context they make little emotional impression. More than once, I
found myself wishing to know the situation the songs had been
designed to illuminate, to make the emotions a little less abstract.
One song that stands out as a glaring exception is "Just One
Step," where an unhappily married woman (Erin Schwab)
threatens to jump off a 53rd-floor ledge. Aside from being very
funny, the scene is dramatically alive enough to truly involve the
Part of the effect must be credited to the performance of
Schwab. Beyond her strong musical-comedy voice, she is born
to perform in this format. Whenever she is onstage she is
instinctively working to connect with her audience.
Vanessa Gamble seems less at home in the style. She has a
more refined voice, but her aloof stage presence means that she
makes less of an impact.
David B. Young and Sam Kivi have strong voices and know
how to use them to create characters and tell stories. But the
songs still ended up sounding like generic pop musical-comedy
ballads too often.
The four were at their best in the many ensembles. Music
director Denise Prosek deserves credit for drawing strong
performances from the four singers and for leading the three
instrumentalists who accompany them.
Brown is clearly a composer to watch. Anyone interested in the
future of the American musical probably will be interested in
"Songs For a New World." There is much to give pleasure, even
if the effect of the evening is not all one might have hoped for.
-- William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis freelance writer.
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