Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World came onto the scene all the way back in 1995. However, given today’s tumultuous times, 2021 feels like the perfect time for North Carolina Theatre to revive this aptly named musical/song cycle hybrid. “Revive” is the right word too as director Eric Woodall and an uber-talented cast breathe new life into this endearing production.
The show features loosely connected songs from four talented performers who move in and out of different roles. First up is the powerful “The New World,” a larger-than-life opener that captures both the excitement and the fear that come with change and choice. It’s a song that, through the lens of today, feels even more powerful, a song that reminds viewers of the things that connect, rather than divide, us all.
In fact, all the songs to follow deal with relatable elements of the human experience. Each one is a story in and of itself and focuses on themes as common and relatable as love, desperation, longing, and hope.
“Just One Step,” punchily performed by Christine Sherrill, deals with a woman taking desperate measures to get her husband’s attention. Despite the dark subject matter, it’s surprisingly funny. In fact, the production is full of versatility. One minute, viewers will find themselves tearing up, only to laugh hysterically at the next. And, speaking of laughing, Sherrill does have some of the production’s funniest moments. Her second act performance of “Surabaya Santa” had the audience in stitches at Tuesday’s opening night performance.
Sherrill, however, is just one of four incredibly talented singers. Krystina Alabado is the clear standout with her perfect pitch and the stage presence to match. Some of her best numbers include the wistful “Stars and Moon,” “I’m Not Afraid,” and the hauntingly beautiful, surprisingly spiritual “Christmas Lullaby.”
Then, there’s Kyle Taylor Parker, who nails the “King of the World” and “The Steam Train” numbers. The latter is made even better thanks to Jose Rondon, Jr.’s fun choreography and LeGrande Smith’s snazzy costume design. Rounding out the gifted cast is Adam Jacobs, who really shines with his performances of “The World Was Dancing.”
Backed by stellar lighting from Samuel Rushen and evocative background videos from Joshua Reaves, one song flows smoothly into the next, leading to an ending that comes all too soon. In a time when hope is so desperately needed, NCT couldn’t have chosen a better production. It doesn’t shy away from the sad parts of life, but its final message is one of solidarity and strength, making it an ideal choice for an uncertain world, a “new world.”
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