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Attuned to Tunes

Four voices sing in beautiful harmony about hope, dreams, and the dilemma of happiness in Songs for a New World, a musical revue that meshes gospel, R&B, and jazz into eighteen heartfelt melodies of surprising emotional depth.

As poignant and deftly chosen as Jason Robert Brown's music and lyrics are, they would be rendered moot -- or in this case, mute -- if not for the vocal talents of Blythe Gruda, Rachel Jones, Kevin Smith Kirkwood, and Tally Sessions, each of whom is allowed to belt out solos while also singing well with one another in both duet and company pieces.

Highlights include Jones's "Stars and the Moon," a beautiful and simple song about wanting the world and the danger of getting what you wish for; "The Steam Train," led by a determined Kirkwood; and "I'd Give It All for You," sung by Sessions and Gruda, about the painstaking process of a long-term relationship.

The set consists entirely of a three-pronged marble staircase on a turntable in the middle of the stage, which slyly allows each singer effortlessly to move to and from the foreground. While the choreography is expectedly subtle, though noticeable, the only unusual thing about the presentation lies in the decision to have the five-piece orchestra on stage with the performers. By adding a concertlike feel without being intrusive, band and performers feed off the others' energy and, as a consequence, create a work that is truly inspired.

In a way, listening to the songs relates directly to the inherent goals of all musical theater: to create a heightened sense of reality that provides the audience something to relate to in an escapist, alchemic form. Songs is, quite literally, music to our ears.


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