SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD
The Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, Fleet Street, London
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Piano - Benjamin Holder
Keyboard - Nicholas Chave
Percussion - Matt
Billups, Mark Halliday, James Pritchard
Bass Guitar - Marcus Pritchard
Director - Sarah Redmond
Musical Director - Francis Goodhand
Choreographer - Cristian Valle
Designer - Rachel Stone
Lighting Designer - Douglas Green
Sound Designer - Charles Simpson
Assistant Musical Director - Benjamin Holder
Vocal Coach - Daniel Gillingwater
Répétiteur - Nicholas Chave
Production Manager - Tom Kitney
Stage Manager - Anna Setchell
Deputy Stage Manager - Adam Tartaglia
Assistant Stage Manager - Alexandra Bradford
Lighting Technicians - Rob Youngson, Alex Hopkins
Producer - Jeremy Walker
Musicals: Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World
“I don’t want to philosophise. I just want to tell a story” says one of the singers in this new musical production.
Last night I went to the opening of the spectacularly talented’s National Youth Music Theatre production of Jason Robert Brown’s review/song cycle Songs for a New World at the Bridewell Theatre, off Fleet Street. It was the start of a short season of Brown’s work. Jason Robert Brown is part of a new cluster of lyrical song writers who are the modern face of the American musical – the Sondheim inheritors who see the musical as a challenging form and write their musical at an angle. Songs was Brown’s first musical written in 1995 when he was 25, a first musical, and although it did not have a long run, it was immediately recognised as displaying an intriguing new talent The show was recorded by RCA Victor and has been around since 1996.
The first staged musical of Brown’s that I saw was only last year - Parade at the Southwark Playhouse. Parade tells the true story of a Brookyn-born Jewish factory manager, Leo Frank, accused of raping and murdering a 13 year old employee, Mary Phagan – a trial full of race and ethnic tensions, sensationalised by the media and eventually a lynching party. It was superb in all dimensions and won much critical acclaim. So I wanted to see more of his work performed. And I was not disappointed with this new production of Songs. Staged by an overwhelmingly talented and energetic youthful company who sparkle, sparkle and then sparkle again. There are no weak links, and the sung through musical overflows with passion and joy. The future of the musical is safe in the hands of such talented energy thanks to the National Youth Music Theatre, formed in 1976 to foster such marvellous talent. The songs are all about moments that hit us when a choice has to be made and a future shaped; one by one they are delivered with emotional verve and tuneful, powerful voice. They each tell a story suggesting the power of stories in our lives. (And each song has been analysed in Scott Miller’s Rebels With Applause: Broadway’s Groundbreaking Musicals (2001):Heinemann). All in all it is a glory. The only sad thing is that it runs for a mere seven performances. Hurry now to see it!
A bit of good news is that this is only part of a (still very short) season. The National are also doing a concert version of The Last 5 Years on Sunday 5th August and Brown himself is directing 13, at the Apollo Theatre from 22nd to 25th August. More treats await us.
National Youth Music Theatre Shines in Jason Robert Brown's ‘Songs for a New World’ at the Bridewell Theatre
Andrew Lloyd Webber describes the National Youth Musical Theatre as being “the finest youth music theatre in the world” and it’s not hard to see why. Last Friday, the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) showcased their extraordinary talents with an epic performance of Songs for a New World by Tony Award-winning composer & lyricist Jason Robert Brown. Produced by Jeremy Walker, Songs for a New World was part of NYMT’s 2012 season featuring a series of four exciting NYMT productions to run in London, three of which are Jason’s musicals. The Last Five Years, now in its 10th Anniversary was shown at the Bridewell Theatre last Sunday and the composer’s London Première of 13 (directed by Jason) will be shown at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, from Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25th August, culminating in a one night show featuring Jason Robert Brown and special guests, also at the Apollo Theatre. Proceeds will go towards the NYMT Bursary Scheme.
The NYMT season opened in July of this year with a production of Howard Goodall’s The Dreaming which was presented for the International Youth Arts Festival at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. The Dreaming was directed by NYMT’s Founder Jeremy James Taylor, OBE.
Songs for a New World is a musical about struggling against all odds to forge relationships, realise ambitions and push through barriers to attain dreams and self-belief. Jason Robert Brown wrote Songs for a New World when he was living the bohemian life of a college drop-out in Greenwich Village. Jason watched his ambitious contemporaries working like crazy in order to eke out a living by gradually turning their passions into success. Talent, no matter how much people have in spades means nothing unless you push your way forwards… and of course, with all that climbing, stumbling on your chosen path, the, sweat, toil and tears, there are always dark clouds lurking around the corner. Jason Robert Brown takes those days of angst-ridden burdens, insecurities, worries and horrors, caricatures them and looks at what happens when his characters are faced with having to make a crunch decision – it’s about choices. This makes fascinating viewing, not least because many of us face these dilemmas on a daily basis and it doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, whether you’re living in a high rise apartment with an interesting collection of mould growing over the walls or whether you’ve been jilted by a lover, you will find yourselves identifying with at least one of the characters in this show.
Sarah Redmond, the production’s director, performed in the European première at the Bridewell in 2001, which no doubt explains the smooth flow between each cycle and theme. Songs for a New World was first produced by the WPA Theatre in New York in 1995 and since then has been performed all over the world. Songs for a New World is a series of musical numbers or “song cycle” that opened with the title song set on the deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship in 1492, after which the cycle moved to a ledge 57 stories above Fifth Avenue. Katie Parsons gave a momentous performance as an angry, selfish lost soul who contemplates leaping to her death in the jazz number “Just One Step”. The audience leaned forward in their chairs, hearts in their mouths - will she or won’t she jump…. “It’s all your fault!” she yells out to her philandering man Murray and “Watch me fly!” Poor sod. The next song flowed into the aptly named “I’m not afraid of anything” sung by the fabulous Rebecca Nash, Amy Matthews, Kathleen Nance, Ashley Mackintosh and Lucy Harwood – a beautiful song about love, fears and the barriers we put up.
“The River Won’t Flow” is the song that stole the hearts of everyone in Act 1. David Grant and Andrew Walker were absolutely sensational and exploded onto the stage. The entire audience clapped and danced in their chairs. There followed some terrific solo performances from Ellie Jackson singing “Transition1” and Charlotte Smith sang “Stars and the Moon” which I have to admit is a personal favourite – I can relate to this a little too much as the character I most identify with! I have yet to decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Either way, this song makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end; a totally stunning melody and lyrics. Charlotte Smith was the shining star of this first act.
David Grant gave one of the strongest male solo performances in “She Cries”. Grant’s natural on stage presence is incredibly endearing and he engages totally with the whole audience. Act 1 finished on a high note with “Steam Train” sung by the angelic Jake Fisher and Company which in the spirit of 2012 had a somewhat Olympic theme. Fisher is a fantastic performer and at this point I must mention the choreography by Cristian Valle which was superb throughout the production, seeing the cast tackle a huge variety of intricate dance routines. Act II opened with “The World Was Dancing” sung by Luke Ward and Company which was truly astounding. Similar to David Grant, Luke Ward is another very natural performer with his own unique style.
Katie Parsons was brilliant in “Surabaya-Santa”. Lounging on a platform like a German cabaret diva, she gave a pouting, highly comedic performance as the vamp of the show. Katie’s act was followed by a more sobering song “Christmas Lullaby” sung by Lizzie Sheard who sang this tremendously powerful ballad in the role of a pregnant, religious lady who rejoices in her situation. Lizzie Sheard gave a spellbinding performance.
“King of the World” sung by Dean Gilmore and Luke Ward was another triumphant performance. The lyrics in this song are fabulous, “Once upon a time I had fate in my hands and the confidence of a million regimes.” Kayla Cohen and Tom Milligan blew the audience away with “I’d give it all for you” written about a couple who break up, then realise they can’t be apart. Totally magnificent. Glenn Betteridge, a punchy performer, followed this with Transition II and Eleanor Kiff gave a mesmerising performance in “The Flagmaker, 1775”. The final solo song “Flying Home” sung by the charismatic Stewart Clarke and Company was the most haunting song in the cycle.
The musical direction by Francis Goodhand with Assistant Musical Director Benjamin Holder cleverly drew out the harmonies within each gospel, jazz, pop and classical song – with some songs containing several of these genres. The sound quality was perfect, blending seamlessly with the strong vocals and it never drowned out the lyrics. Sound Designer Charles Simpson had worked hard to get the quality right. I particularly loved the use of the Bridewell’s balcony which housed the 6 strong band: Benjamin Holder (Piano); Nicholas Chave (Keyboard II); Percussion: Matt Billups, Mark Halliday and James Pritchard, and Marcus Pritchard (Bass Guitar). Other credit must go to Production Designer Rachel Stone and Lighting Designer Douglas Green.
Since its establishment in 1976, the NYMT has given thousands of young people a chance to develop their musical theatre careers. 2012 is certainly an exciting year for the NYMT with a record number of budding musical stars flocking to their auditions. NYMT’s summer and half-term workshops directed by Jeremy James Taylor, OBE are proving hugely popular, particularly The Exploring Sondheim Workshop at Kingston College for ages 15 plus and the Music Theatre Workshop for 11 to 14 year-olds (a series of three-day non-residential workshops) In particular, the Summer Skills Course at Sevenoaks School this year was a huge hit with talented young apprentices from all over the UK who were eager to work with directors, musical directors and choreographers.
Reviewer: Fiona Lister Rating: ★★★★
Songs for a New World: all human life is here.
Songs for a New World has rarity value. It may have been performed around the world but all I’d ever caught, to date, was the opening number. At Sadlers Wells five years ago with Sandra Whiteley’s theatre academy; at Yorkshire’s Ted Hughes Theatre three years ago with West End in the Wings (Will Breckin, Leah Goodhind, Stuart MacIver et al).
So it was something of a pilgrimage to the Bridewell Theatre, a hidden gem among the nuggets of England’s lost newspaper industry off Fleet Street, for this epic Jason Robert Brown song cycle. He’s not a household name; outside of the musical theatre world there’s no point referring to him as the new Stephen Sondheim. But one of his other masterpieces, The Last Five Years, at another hidden gem, the Brockley Jack (and Mr MacIver again) heads my top ten of best nights out. Ever.
This production couldn’t topple that, but only because I was at the matinee. It was the National Youth Music Theatre, tackling a challenge of infinite demand and expectation, taking on every musical, theatrical and emotional challenge in just a couple of hours.
The “show” is a series of random, seemingly unrelated songs; the composer’s own attempt at a cohesive rationale is cloyingly sentimental: “Songs for a New World is a show that suggests our best solution to the stress and terror and anxiety we feel is to come together and form a community that will support and uplift each other.” But random and unrelated though they may be, they are classically great songs, epic songs musically and lyrically, each and every one of them. And what these exuberant and talented youngsters have done is to segue from one to the next with ever-surprising originality, ingenuity and theatrical innovation.
Can JRB ever have imagined what choreographer Cristian Valle and director Sarah Redmond would do with his creation? There’s dancing to startle and amuse, chorus numbers to lift the roof, and soloists with mature, star quality. Voices like Stewart Clarke who took on the challenge of the range of Spanish Sailing Ship with electrifying power. Katie Parsons, a naturally comic and tragic performer in Just One Step, and Surabaya-Santa. And the elastic-limbed, streetwise dude Jake Fisher who stole us away on Steam Train.
There’s a delightfully expectant performance of the Christmas Lullaby, stars of the future presenting us with “the future of the world inside of me”. There’s joy and terror, passion and profundity, fun and philsophy, hope and despair. In short, all human life is here. Songs for a New World is a gigantic piece of work, and this is a truly great production.
A lovely little song-cycle goes a very long way when executed with such expertise; and here, this National Youth Music Theatre company was exceeding relatively high expectations from the get-go. A lot of this cast will be looking back at this production as “where it all began”.
As an entirety, there is no visible storyline that we should follow, or any aid of assisting the audience should they not fully understand. Rather, it’s a collection of songs that have the same message to portray. This piece has indeed turned out to shed hopeful and helpful light on a whole load of people: we see the struggle, pushing, sweat and pain that us more aged spectators have all felt at some point. On the flip side, it fills the youngsters with inspiration and excitement. This production presents the idea of a community coming together to support and uplift one another – it’s just lovely.
The company mastered the introductory numbers to this musical theatre experience with admirable maturity, and professionalism, to an exceedingly high quality. The almost packed, though relatively small auditorium was hence forth amazed, and was to remain so for a further ninety minutes.
Vocalists Stewart Clarke and Charlotte Smith almost literally glow on stage – I wouldn’t be disappointed at seeing these two playing lead roles on the West End today. To stand out amongst an already exceptional bunch was a challenge indeed; but they did so, a great deal, inducing tears and awe-inspired butterflies the whole time. The ambition within the company is crystal clear. This song-cycle, that was initially a “personal little piece”, has the potential to move an audience from beginning to end if it is given the opportunity to do so. Each song came across as a personal song, as if they were just singing to themselves: making the delivery and overall receiving of the piece much more special.
Whilst the smaller audience and auditorium enhanced my personal experience significantly (and I’m sure it did the same for others), the majority of these aspiring musical theatre performers are already deserving of the epic stages and audience capacities that London’s theatreland and beyond has to offer, and the standing ovations they’re yet to soak up.
The National Youth Music Theatre’s 2012 season is featuring the work of American composer Jason Robert Brown, and this evening they are presenting ‘Songs for a New World’ directed by Sarah Redmond. It’s been seventeen years since this piece was first performed in Manhattan and tonight the NYMT treat us to a truly magical evening.
Jason Robert Brown, who has shot to fame in recent years as one of musical theatre’s leading composers, with gems such as ‘The Last Five Years’ and ‘Parade’ never fails to have you on the edge of your seat as you become totally transported into the world of the characters he creates and you listen to the stories they have to tell.
The NYMT established in 1976 by Jeremy James Taylor certainly lives up to its reputation tonight of creating dynamic innovative work and being the training ground and inspiration for future professionals.
Sarah Redmond brings these fantastic but unrelated songs, linked together as a song cycle, to life with her imaginative and thought provoking staging. Redmond’s skilful direction brings out the very best of each of the young performers on stage.The detailed characterisation and many a comedy moment bring out the full potential of not only the singing, but also great acting.
Ellie Jackson opened the show with a lovely engaging stage presence and stood out throughout. Charlotte Smith showed us some lovely acting as she told us the story of ‘Stars and the Moon’. Katie Parsons, who performed two show stopping numbers ‘Just One Step’ and ‘Surabaya-Santa’, has a fantastic voice and great comic timing. Kayla Cohen and Tom Milligan’s duet ‘I’d give it all for you’ was beautifully sung and acted. Stewart Clarke, Dean Gilmore and Luke Ward sang brilliantly and Jake Fisher brought some great dancing to the show which was choreographed by Cristian Valle.
There was so much young talent on stage to enjoy, but a stand-out moment was Amy Matthews’s real tears streaming down her face after an emotional ‘I’m Not Afraid of Anything’ and the performance of the evening was Eleanor Kiff’s interpretation of ‘The Flagmaker, 1775’, possibly the most challenging song of the evening, and Eleanor executed it perfectly.
Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Songs for a New World’ is an exhilarating emotional ride and with Musical Director Francis Goodhand’s band, Sarah Redmond’s interpretation and the talented NYMT this makes for a splendid theatre experience.
Tony award-winner Jason Robert Brown’s musical cycle enjoys a lively revival at the Bridewell Theatre. Part of the National Youth Music Theatre’s summer season, which features more of Brown’s work as part of a temporary collaboration, Songs for a New World is a collection of similarly themed musical numbers in which characters come to some kind of psychological brink – they experience “That one moment when it all becomes clear” and have to make some sort of decision.
We enter an industrial soundscape – cars hoot, trains rattle past and people bustle – while lonely actors pace about the stage or check their mobile phones. Through a synoptic opening number, director Sarah Redmond further introduces the context of the show: a girl wins the lottery, changing her life forever. A few minutes on, she walks into the same train carriage as a terrorist armed with a bomb. References to contemporary issues such as this, haunt the piece throughout: it is a powerful re-imagining of Brown’s original production, which was set in a variety of historical times, yet sometimes the knife cuts a little too close to the bone. In the number I’m not afraid of anything, five girls cower in a Columbine high school classroom as the shooter stalks the corridors outside.
Gladly, the mood is brought up a notch or two by some splendid comic performances. Special mention must go to Katie Parsons and her brilliant singing and comic timing in both Just one step and Surabaya-Santa, as well as Charlotte Smith for her performance as a materialistic, gold-digging man-eater in Stars and the Moon. High praise must also go to choreographer Cristian Valle and musical director Francis Goodhand, who make sure that the NYMT keeps up its good reputation for being a centre for excellence when it comes to musical theatre training. All of the cast boasted great – and some especially hair-raising – singing voices and impressive moves, the dancing in the more energetic pieces helping to move the pace along quite nicely through the hour and three-quarters or so running time.
Songs for a New World can lay claim to some admirable performances, with a band to match any of the actors on-stage. The end of the show, although carrying the re-assuring message that in this confused and hostile world we’ll all eventually “be fine”, falls into cliché as we re-visit the terrorist character and he is dissuaded from carrying out his crime by the kindness of a fellow human. If, however, you’d like to see some fantastic performances from Britain’s up-and-coming actors and actresses, then quickly head on over to the Bridewell Theatre, just off Fleet Street; the run ends on 4th August!