There are eighteen songs in Songs for a New World, some more imaginative than others but all striking in their deceptive simplicity. The common themes in this revue of composer Jason Robert Brown's work are life and happiness, or lack thereof. They run the gamut from unabashed optimism to shocking cynicism in a world gone wrong.
Highlights include "Just One Step," sung by Debra Ginsberg; "She Cries" by Matthew McGuire, the guy's answer to "Just One Step"; and "The Steam Train" by Bechir Sylvain. Eloquent dancing, and the impossibility of happiness, are found in "Stars and the Moon," sung by Lori Nuti. The real showstopper of the evening, however, belongs to Ashley Shapiro as she sings "Surabaya Santa." Equal parts bitter and lustful, Shapiro's energy and rage (it's obvious she's mad at herself and "Nick") jolts the audience in a truly inspired, and fun, performance.
The complex emotional depths of the songs are contrasted by a lack of visual stimuli onstage. There are no sets; only a small wooden platform and the occasional chair are used as props. Further, the actors are dressed in black, though some, like the omnipresent Lauren Kairalla, change outfits throughout. While the darkness appropriately echoes the pessimism in a number of the songs, it also brings negativity to those that are more positive.
Having eighteen songs allows for criticism in groups of three: Six of them are so superb you'd regret missing them; another six are good, but nothing special; and the final six can be done without. When the two hours have passed, you'll leave the theater with a feeling of pleasure, yet oddly unfulfilled.
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