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BWW Review: SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, The Other Palace Digital

BWW Review: SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, The Other Palace Digital BWW Review: SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, The Other Palace Digital

Jason Robert Brown has gifted the world with immeasurable talent through his flair for theatrical compositions with a pop/rock bent and broad vocal ranges. And the UK has been gifted with a wealth of JRB productions over the years - most recently an inspired lockdown performance of The Last Five Years, and before that a stunning Menier Chocolate Factory production of Bridges of Madison County.

We don't often see or hear Brown's first ever produced 'musical' - Songs For A New World - but thankfully Lambert Jackson Productions has rectified that for us. It's more of a song cycle than fully realised musical, tackling different themes with a variety of nameless characters executed by just four performers.

It was last performed live in London in 2015 with Cynthia Erivo, Jenna Russell, Dean John-Wilson and Damian Humbley - to acclaim - so it's about time it was resurrected and delivered to a much wider audience. This production benefits from some equally powerhouse casting with Cedric Neal, Rachel Tucker, Rachel John and Ramin Karimloo, and featuring newcomer Shem Omari James.

When the opening track kicks in ("A New World") with shots of the performers overlaid with video clips from recent news stories about theatres going dark, it's clear that the goal here is to deliver us content that is contextualised firmly by the current climate. And it works. The intention of "A New World" as a standalone song is to tackle the theme of experiencing one profound moment in life, where you find yourself needing to make some big decisions. I'm not sure anything could be more relevant right now, and combine that with the stunning four-part harmony as the song builds and you've got yourself a tear-jearking, heart-pumping winner.

My main criticism of this particular score is a selfish one - that my favourite track is over before four minutes are up. But I needed not dwell on that this time round, because Cedric Neal stunned me to silence on the second track, "On The Deck of a Spanish Sailing Ship". He takes this incredibly demanding vocal line and turns it into something apparently effortless, joined by the rest of the company to create a glorious gospel.

Broadly speaking, this track is written about a group of people enduring hardships, putting their faith in a higher power to deliver them through the journey to a 'promised land'. So the decision to position it visually alongside powerful images and video clips of the recent prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement is the perfect fit, giving it fresh and relevant context. It ensures that we keep this conversation alive, that we all keep fighting for equality...and has the fringe benefit of elevating JRB's melodies to an even more powerful place.

As we cycle through the songs, we're treated to a wide variety of themes, characters, and portrayals by this versatile company. Rachel Tucker nails the comedy in "Just One Step" and "Surabya Santa", but is also able to deliver touching tragedy in "Stars and the Moon", about a wealthy woman in a loveless marriage.

Rachel John brings a serene stillness to her solos, which is quite the achievement considering the power and strength in her vocal. Ramin Karimloo is unsurprisingly engaging, and his duet with John is a highlight. Shem Omari James is a final year student at Arts Ed, but you would assume a more seasoned background from his confident performance. Raw and personal, James's talent for storytelling is indisputable - and what a joy to hear from one of our future leaders of the industry.

The beauty of online performance is that the audience can see every detail up close, but the challenge for the performer, of course, is that there's no audience in real time for them to play to. Which makes this cast's ability to connect emotionally down the lens a stunning achievement and a credit to Séimí Campbell's direction.

I held myself together until the final track, the lyrics of which are scarily poignant for these times: "Hear my song/It was made for the times when you don't know where to go/Listen to the song that I sing/And trust me/We'll be fine".

Hearing this company sing these words so passionately elicited a visceral response in me that I had previously assumed could only be achieved by in-person theatre. I wept. I felt connected to them as individuals and performers, and to our industry as a whole. This journey we are on to keep theatre alive is a collective one, and initiatives like this online production go a long way to supporting the sector emotionally as well as financially. We'll be fine, gang, we'll be fine.

Read our recent interview with Cedric Neal HERE

You can donate and educate yourself on the Black Lives Matter movement HERE

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