Songs for a New World – Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London

Reviewer: Riley Powell

Writer: Jason Robert Brown

Director: Kai Wright

More than anything, it is the human condition that connects us all. From love to loss, from dreams to bittersweet reality, these imminent threads of the self are the markers of connectedness and humanity.

In a rather unique format, writer Jason Robert Brown’s 1995 song cycle Songs for a New World builds upon this sentiment, intertwining the various and unlikely stories of those dispersed throughout history. From the tale of a failing marriage to another lamenting the loss of a job, Brown not only brings together a collection of seemingly separate stories but does so solely through the impressive use of music and song.

To pull together a fully-fledged story within the handful of minutes given for a song is a feat entirely worth mentioning. Comprised of sixteen songs, stories, and experiences, Songs for a New World reaches a degree of complexity that is oftentimes missed. To achieve so through an anthology of songs easily sets this show apart from the majority. The performances of the four-strong cast breathe life and complexity into the story, elevating both the message of the song cycle and the enjoyable experience of watching the production unfold.

Lizzy Parker’s outstanding execution of I’m Not Afraid of Anything is a key testament to this, as she effortlessly embodies the mentality and feeling of the song, bringing to life a heartfelt story with her singing and facial expressions. Parker’s ability to contribute such emotion to this performance and the ones that follow is a token of her skill and insight into the soul of these stories.

This precise understanding of the stories is similarly translated through Eleanore Frances’ expert stage presence throughout– especially with songs like Stars and the Moon and Christmas Lullaby. As a primary source of comedy, Frances’ ability to supply the audience with fits of laughter with the uniquely humorous and complex personalities of her characters leaves an impression on the show.

Just as each cast member single-handedly enraptures the audience in their solo performances, when they come together for certain moments and verses, the harmony of voices and movement creates a scene that does the musical justice. Apart from a few discrepancies, the harmony is artfully delivered, and the excitement of the cast is entirely palpable.

While the premise of a song cycle can be a difficult one, Brown’s Songs for a New World and the performances of the cast easily silence any uncertainties. By illuminating various stories and pulling on the threads that connect them, Songs for a New World presents a performance that is entirely worth seeing.

Runs until 3 March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Enjoyable song cycle

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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