BWW Review: Discover an Abundance of Hope in SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD at Birmingham Festival Theatre
"Songs For A New World" is essentially about the same thing: unexpected moments that lead you somewhere you did not plan on being. We can all relate to these moments of change. The driving force of the show are Jason Robert Brown's incredible songs sharing examples of men and women surviving these moments; adjusting to this new world before them. Unity is found in shared experiences from the audience, making for a very entertaining and moving performance. "Songs For A New World" carries the same rock/soul hybrid sound found in Brown's previous works (The Last Five Years, Parade, The Bridges of Madison County). The play is a series of songs back to back. Its non-linear in structure reflects numerous subjects, and scenarios.
Brown's powerful lyrics act a roadmap for one to regroup, and figure out how to survive against overwhelming odds and emotional monoliths. This musical is a delicious tapestry of soulful and rugged songs about entering a new world of change. Pregnancy, imprisonment, divorce, and death are just a few of the turmoil's addressed in the songs relatable subject matter. The radical acceptance found in the song lyrics is a bright neon sign in the dark emotional vulnerably of the audience. The glowing neon sign reads hope, and it is in all caps.
Brown has a jones for accompaniment patterns that are rich with rhythmic flights of heartfelt drama, rock, gospel and jazz. The signature melody and sometimes the lyrics of the opening are used throughout the various songs in the musical. The songs are not all home runs. Brown's songs in this show ride on a see-saw between lyrically strong and structurally strong.
Director Brandon Bruce changes hats from being the artistic director of the Birmingham Children's Theatre. Bruce provides simple and creative staging for the modest stage at BFT. Sara James powerhouse voice fills the theater in an expressive and controlled delivery. Jalen J. Brown's gifted voice fearlessly exposes his soulful heart. Leah Luker provides an endearing voice that radiates warmth and an impressive range. Finally Chris Charleston provides a charismatic and comical whimsy backed up with solid vocals. The chemistry of the cast is stellar. They all are in sync in voice and blocking.
Musical director John Allen Bankson on keyboard and percussionist Maury Levine give impressive soul, snap and strength to the musical backbone of the performance. Scenic designer Mindy Egan gives a simple stage that captures the essence of a sunrise over a small island. Lighting designer James Arakas uses some dramatic flavor. Costume designer Megan Pecot provides wardrobe with swash of colors, textures and styles that gel with the actors playing multiple roles without having costume changes.
The performance is very intimate and full of surprises. The take away from "Songs For A New World" is to embrace the power of unity, hope and resilience. We all have struggles that seem to be too much to bear. This wonderful show shares the truth that you are not alone, and you are stronger than you think.
Birmingham Festival Theatre
"Songs For A New World" by Jason Robert Brown
Director Brandon Bruce
Musical Director John Allen Bankson
Jalen J. Brown
Understudies - James Mackey Atkinson and Amy Coenen
Birmingham Festival Theatre
1901 1/2 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
July 25 - Aug 10
Thurs - Sat 8pm / Sun matinee: 2:00
Tickets and info : www.bftonline.org or (205) 933-2383
Photo Credit: Steven Ross