note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Beverly Creasey
If Stephen Sondheim weren’t so deliciously cynical, he’d be Jason Robert Brown.—which is the highest compliment I can pay Mr. Brown. His SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD astonish, amuse and make the spirit soar. I’ve seen the revue before but Metro Stage’s version literally electrifies the dark, funky Central Square YMCA theater space. The good news is that they’re playing one more weekend (through June 17). If you’re a snob, you’ll find Brown’s lyrics as clever as you-know-who’s. If you like to be surprised, his wit turns and tickles faster than you can anticipate the reversals. If you’re in need of a lift, his “New World” songs speak to the discovery of a strange new land in 1492 as much as they do for the scary post 9-11 world we’ve inherited from the warmongers.
If we ever needed help from a higher power, it’s now and Brown articulates our hopes and prayers as well as any anthem could. James Tallach bravely and beautifully scales the heights (several octaves worth!) under Karen Gahagan’s deft music direction. The ensemble sings gorgeously. Director Janet Neely’s intelligent conception of the song cycle is for each singer to simply stand and tell the story—and each song is a world unto itself. Donald Ray Gregorio’s ingenious choreography never upstages the music: it elegantly punctuates and frames the material.
Tracy Nygard struts her comic stuff in the hilarious “Just One Step” (off the ledge), then stops the show with Tallach in “I’d Give it All for You.” Joshua Heggie melts your heart with “She Cries” and then drives the train home in the powerhouse “The River Won’t Flow.” Grace Sumner channels a naughty Lotte Lenya in the outrageous Kurt Weill send-up, “Surabaya Santa” and Aaron Velthouse cracks the universe open with his mighty “King of the World” (cleverly lit by John MacKenzie).
Mary O'Donnell's lilting soprano opens the show. Charles Kircher delivers a poignant, sorrowful “The World Was Dancing” and Kristin Huberdeau sings the plaintive “regret” ballad, “Stars and the Moon.” Brown’s music does, as the song says, “shine the light” --- and even if it’s for a very short time, you do leave the theater feeling promise for the future. How often can you say that?