Songs For A New World was Jason Robert Brown's first produced show. It's unique--hard to describe but full of beautiful music. He has said of the piece, that it's 'about one moment. It's about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back.' This particular production made me want to choose to run screaming out of the theatre and forget that it ever happened. There were so many things wrong from top to bottom, I don't quite know where to begin.
The venue is a church which, considering that the show has songs about Jesus, was either a brilliant or terrible choice. The set is simple, full of small props that are supposed to mean something--except we don't know what. They shine flashlights at you, turn on twinkly lights and expect you to be moved. I was not. There are four actors, each trying their best to convey a bevy of emotions--sadly none of them had any stage presence and some struggled to hit the notes so the only thing I felt was the need to leave. There isn't a band, just one lone pianist, accompanied by the actors who take it upon themselves to be the percussionists using bongos and tiny egg shakers. Here again we are faced with a big problem--the actors appear to have no rhythm. They are shaking and tapping with all their might, just not in tempo with the singer or the pianist. At one point my companion and I debated taking the shakers away from them but thought it best not to disrupt the catastrophe happening before our eyes.
I'm a huge fan of Jason Robert Brown, he writes music and lyrics that speak volumes especially at different stages in ones life. He also tends to use a lot of Jewish cultural references, New York accents and yiddishisms. The cast struggled terribly with this, unable to imitate or bring to life the characters as they were written. Being that I know the show well I found it horribly painful listening to them butcher songs so dear to my heart.
This is a complicated show when done well, so in this state, you really had no idea at all what was happening. With actors who can sing but definitely couldn't perform these songs, using a stage that was supposedly full of symbolism that wasn't in any way symbolic--well, you basically end up with a huge mess. I can only hope that no one sees this show for the first time with this cast, because they do it absolutely no justice.