National Youth Music Theatre’s Songs for a New World at the Bridewell Theatre
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.
Overall, Songs for a New World is not a must-see. Although it can lay claim to some admirable performances, with a band to match any of the actors on-stage, the direction and arc of the piece leave something to be desired – some numbers are only saved by the brilliance of their performers, others aren’t saved at all. 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!
Orestes Daniel Kouzof
Songs for a New World is at the Bridewell Theatre from 31st July until 4th August 2012. For further information or to book visit the National Youth Music Theatre’s website here.