BWW Review: SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD at ART4
This past weekend, Art4 opened their third season with a production of SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD. Jason Robert Brown's increasingly revered song-cycle is a revue of music about people on the brink of a climactic moment in life. From a distressed shipmate to a young basketball player and even Mrs. Claus, the cast of four performers bring to life several different characters in crisis to a versatile score of jazzy uptempos and soul-stirring ballads.
The four performers generally give notable performances vocally and acting-wise. Michelle Miller plays Woman 1 and shines as a vocal powerhouse while also emotionally moving the audience with her quieter moments such as "Christmas Lullaby." Amber Burgess gives some of the greatest comedic and dramatic moments in the show as Woman 2. Her performance is a perfect example of how to act through a song, and she consistently makes dynamic choices that leave great impact. Mark Albin plays Man 1 and scatters around the room with sporadic energy and an emotional singing voice which lends itself well to his solos. Nathan Waltz also does great work, particularly during interactions with other characters in songs like "I'd Give it All for You".
The pit, directed by Aaron Albin is well blended and a nice addition. The varying forms of percussion help with the fun stylization of the songs, and the difficult score is played with ease. However, at times the pit overpowers the vocalists - leaving audience members who don't know the lyrics leaning forward for a second hearing on occasion.
The staging is set really well, with director Mark Albin creating dynamic shapes and movements with the cast. The opening number is particularly eye-catching and helps build a connection to each of the characters through twists turns and subtle choreography that don't feel forced.
My biggest issue with this production is the aesthetics. Again, the show is a revue of music about people on the brink. Heavy angst and grit is needed for these performances, but the set and costumes - which look very nice - are reminiscent of a follies show and do not match with the material that is being performed on stage. A perfect example is the song "On the Deck of a Spanish Ship." All the performers are giving their all to suck us into this world of pain and suffering, but the actors are dressed in coat-tail suits, ties, and sparkling dresses. Again, the curtain-filled set and shiny costumes by Emily Chidalek look great. However, the clash between the aesthetics and source material was distracting for me.
The lighting is a saving grace for tone. Nich Sikorski's lighting design feels so natural while also being dramatically effective with the music. It blends in well with everything, almost as a bridge between the performances and the set they're surrounded by.
Overall, Art4's SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD is great from a performance standpoint on all ends, but the 'Lawerence Welk-esque' environment threw me off. Though the tone was an issue for me at times, the vocal and acting performances are stellar, and the show will leave audiences with great laughs. If you that sounds like your cup of tea, see Art4's SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD.
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD continues performances through February 16th, 2020. Tickets are available online at www.art4sb.org, or by calling (515)205-9498.
Photo Credits: www.art4sb.org