If ever there was a time for change to come, then surely no one would argue that now isn’t that time. We’ve only just passed the halfway point in a year that would have been unimaginable to us at the start of the decade, and all we know about the future is that it’s our decisions now that will shape it. Jason Robert Brown’s theatrical song cycle, and his first work to ever be performed, Songs For a New World, is all about decision making, or more accurately the moment that a decision has to be made.
Lambert Jackson Productions and The Other Palace reunite for another virtual production following the success of their first, The Last Five Years, another Jason Robert Brown classic. While that is a musical which tells a story, Songs For a New World, is a more of a collection of stories with a common theme. The songs were all written for other purposes and were curated in to a song cycle first performed in the mid-nineties.
Director, Séimí Campbell, has recognised that there isn’t one defining story arc here, treating each individual song as its own separate piece. The performers (all filmed at home and in isolation) have been given the freedom to create characters that best suit the song, while retaining some form of thread that runs through this online concert.
The cast of four are all hugely successful West End and Broadway stars, and there was never any doubt that they would be able to take on the challenging vocals. But the final performances are even better than anyone could ever have imagined, Cedric Neal’s performance of ‘Flying Home’ is simply sublime, while Ramin Karimloo and Rachel John’s ‘I’d Give It All For You’ is one of the most beautiful things you’ll hear during lockdown.
Rachel Tucker gets to have the most fun, singing ‘Surabaya-Santa’ we get to see an unusual side of Mrs Claus, while her ‘Stars and The Moon’ is both amusing and heartbreaking. During some solos the remaining three singers provide backing vocals, a combination of musical supervision by Adam Hoskins and musical direction from Josh Winstone makes it all sound flawless.
Songs For a New World opens with news footage from around the world, it’s a mixture of the pandemic (and its affect on theatres) and the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s a sobering reminder of the world that we live in now and sets up the key ethos for the production. Frustratingly, the very first number has to compete audibly with the voices of newscasters, and it doesn’t transition quite as seamlessly as it could have.
The link between current affairs and the songs doesn’t continue throughout, save for one clip of Donald Trump, and perhaps it’s a device could have been better utilised to help the message hit home.
As a song cycle, even one produced in isolation, Songs for A New World, strikes a balanced note between the world we live in, and one we could hope for, the performances are outstanding, and each song is even more inspiring than the last. Whatever our own new world looks like, this production reminds us of the decisions we must take to get us there.
All images courtesy Lambert Jackson Productions