Songs for a New World

Theatre, Off-West End
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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There's a cracking cast in this revival of Jason Robert Brown's song cycle.

If there was a big ol’ rule book on how to succeed in staging song cycles – musical shows with no narrative but some sort of theme, featuring one composer’s songs performed back to back – then rule one would be ‘get a really, really good cast’. Without one, listening to non-stop show tunes can be a little hard, a little flat and a little boring.

Director Adam Lenson has definitely adhered to that golden rule. In his new production of Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Songs for a New World’ – themed around life’s tipping points – his cast of four are about as good as you could get. Musical theatre stalwarts Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley, the fast rising Cynthia Erivo and relative newcomer Dean John-Wilson are riveting pretty much the entire way through. They make a nice, varied team: their singing styles different but complimentary.

Russell moves effortlessly from song to song, and it’s her and Humbley that bring what little narrative there is to the show. With simply a look, or a tilt of the head they suggest a story, something John-Wilson and Erivo don’t do. Russell also masters the two songs that will make you laugh – without which the night would be a smidgen earnest. In the hilarious ‘Surabaya Santa’, she’s Mother Christmas just before she decides to dump Father Christmas, and in ‘Just One Step’ she’s an ignored wife trying to attract her husband’s attention by making a show of throwing herself out of a window.

In the pipes department, they’ve all got star quality. Erivo’s voice is clear, strong sharp and beautiful. She can belt it out and rein it in with barely a thought. John-Wilson’s sound is more pop-band than musical theatre and he’s been given mainly soul numbers, which he aces. With an experienced ease, Russell and Humbley bring oodles of  character and nuance to the tunes. The entire group of voices are a rich, velvety mixture that’s easy to drown in.

A couple of Robert Brown’s songs are fun and you’ll be humming earworm ‘The New World’ on the way out, but really this show is only about the superb performances. 

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