BWW Reviews: Jason Robert Brown's SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD at Potomac MD
It was about a year ago that the Young Artists of America (now in its third season) had contacted Jason Robert Brown about obtaining his orchestrated version of SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD for a performance. When Brown heard what YAA was up to, he expressed an interest in participating.
Well, March 15 and 16, 2014 there was Brown center stage conducting 87 musicians and 35 singers in his popular song cycle. It was quite an experience. Brown mentioned he initially wrote the full orchestrations at the behest of St. John the Divine in New York City for a performance for a celebration for the Millenium. Hearing his incredibly powerful score with a full orchestra was a real treat and I can only envision symphony orchestras around the country performing it.
Under Artistic Director Rolando Sanz, Music Director Kristofer Sanz, and Executive Director, Jennifer Boudrye, the YAA is the first known program of its kind in the nation to bring together high school aged instrumentalists and vocalists to specialize in study and perform large scale vocal works. The cornerstone of the organization is their Mentoring Program in which students are only coached by professional instrumentalists and singers, but also perform alongside them.
Brown seemed to be having a great time conducting (and occasionally performing with) an orchestra of 87 and a vocal team of 35. Fresh from the opening night of his new Broadway musical THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, Brown served as quite the mentor for these impressionable and talented aspiring young actors and musicans. Brown has a history of working with young people having written 13 THE MUSICAL for Broadway which was performend entirely by young people.
The location was Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD. There was a thunderous ovation when Conductor Brown took the podium and one got the power immediately with the wonderful opening number "Opening Sequence 1: The New World" followed by "Opening Sequence II: On the deck of a Spanish sailing ship, 1492."
Brown mentioned he was only 19 when he wrote the first song for SFANW and was 24 when he finished. He then took to the piano to accompany guest Artist Rachelle Fleming who put on her Brooklyn accent for the humorous "Just One Step".
Kathryn Bailey and Gillian Han combined for a gorgeous rendition of "I'm Not Afraid". This was followed by the upbeat "The River Won't Flow" with some great harmony. The most famous number of SFANW is "Stars and the Moon" and Isabel Udell and Amanda Wiilis nailed it.
"She Cries" was sung beautifully by Alex Stone, a Junior at McLean High School. Stone will be performing April 24-26, 2014 in the area premiere of the musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at McLean. Brown was on the piano for this number as well as for the last number Act I, "The Steam Train" by Guest Artist Michael Mainwairing, a YAA alumnus, along with Annie Fang, Wesley Diener, and Kathryn Bailey.
Act II begun with one of my favorite numbers,"The World Was Dancing" done superbly by Eitan Mazia and Maya Eaglin. Guest Artist Tracy Lynn Olivera, fresh from her fabulous job in Gypsy at the Signature Theatre, was remarkable in "Surabaya Santa". Sophia Anastasi did the beautiful "Christmas Lullaby". "King of the World" featured Artistic Director Rolando Sanz. Alex Rothfieldand and Elizabeth Doerman sang the powerful "I'd Give it All for You". Emma Rothfield sang beautifully "Transition Into Flagmaker, 1775" which was followed by the amazing Nova Y. Payton (so terrific in Signature's DREAMGIRLS) in "The Flagmaker, 1775".
"Flying Home" was just amazing sung by Eitan Mazia and Alex Stone. "Final Transition: The New World" was spot on by the capable Brenna McFarland, Hrishikesh Balaji, and Adam Goldstein. The hauting finale "Hear My Song" was formidable with Olivera, Fleming, Payton, and Isabel Udell.
Kudos to Director Jay D. Brock for putting this all together. There was great lighting by Jason Arnold, superb sound by Chris Alires, and wonderful choreography by Christen Svengos and Sara Malinowski Sanz.
The orchestra was just plain spectacular. Special thanks should go to the Guest Mentors: Adam Michael Kaufman (piano), Amanda Dusold (oboe, english horn), Ari Allal (bassoon), Dinia Yeo (french horn), Steven Walker (guitar), Chris Chlumsky (bass), Chris DeChiara and Dylan Barber (drums and percussion) and Matthew Albright (rehearsal pianist).
I can't wait to see what they do next.
I also want to highly recommend "The Grilled Oyster" at 7943 Tuckerman Lane, Potomac, MD for a magnificent meal after this fabulous show.
Photo Credit: Carmelita Watkinson