Sometimes less really is more. Songs For A New World, presented by Not Another Musical Co-op, is an extremely minimalist production. It’s a small four-person cast, there is little in the way of a set, and the stories told on stage are often left up to the interpretations of the audience. That simplicity allows the actors and Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics (Parade, The Last Five Years) to soar, and they do.
Although there is no plot, the show is bound together with overarching and entwining themes, and while the actors do not play the same characters throughout the show, they do develop and grow. The complexities of the music and of the human experience are always at the forefront and make for a captivating experience.
The cast have all been seen in recent Vancouver productions. Daren Herbert (Man 1) and Jennifer Neumann (Woman 1) played Richie and Maggie respectively in Royal City’s A Chorus Line in the spring. Neumann also shared the stage with Alison MacDonald (Woman 2) and Jonathan Winsby (Man 2) in the recent Arts Club smash hit Les Misérables.
Herbert’s softer falsetto contrasts beautifully with Winsby’s powerful baritone and both Neumann and MacDonald are in equally fine form vocally. Each one has the chance shows off in their solos and yet still come together to complement each other in the many harmonies.
The ever-charismatic Jonathan Winsby demonstrates his prowess as a leading man in both “The World Was Dancing” and “She Cries.” Jennifer Neumann is fearless yet guarded in “I’m Not Afraid;” then she lets loose in her duet with Winsby, “I’d Give it All For You.”
Alison MacDonald is a bundle of neuroses threatening to jump out of an apartment window in “Just One Step” and then is a fierce and romantically-frustrated Mrs. Claus in “Surabaya Santa.” Daren Herbert shows off in “Steam Train” and then is a dynamo of raw emotion in “King of the World.”
I find something new in Brown’s score on each and every listen, but my favourite has always been the oft-recorded “Stars and the Moon.” Alison MacDonald embraces the song with open arms and hits all the right notes, emotionally and musically.
The ubiquitous and multi-talented Sara-Jeanne Hosie co-directs and co-choreographs with Shane Snow. Their synchronised choreography worked well in “The Steam Train” but in other numbers, was far too distracting. Brown’s score is piano-centric and the three piece band receives almost as much attention as the actors. Pianist Sean Bayntun, percussionist Sam Hutchison and bassist Hugh Macdonald make beautiful music together.
Songs For A New World is a work of art and should be contemplated and savoured. Come for both the amazing talent and the sumptuous score and you won’t be disappointed.
Songs For A New World is playing August 12th – 29th, 2009 at Pacific Theatre, located at 1440 West 12th Avenue. The show runs Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on August 22nd and 29th at 2pm. Tickets are available online or by calling 604-684-2787.
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